The Army was the last Department of Defense (DoD) service branch to implement a paternity leave program, which took effect in 2009. The FY 2009 Defense Authorization Act established a program that allows up to 10 days of nonchargeable leave for new fathers. The act leaves it up to the individual services to develop plans to implement the new benefit. The Navy was the first branch to issue details about its program, followed by the Air Force, and then the Marine Corps.
As of 2019, the Army Parental Leave Program - Soldiers who received 10 days of nonchargeable parental leave (commonly known as paternity leave) or up to 21 days of non-chargeable adoption leave may be retroactively designated as primary or secondary caregivers (in accordance with designation guidance for primary and secondary caregivers in paragraphs 6 and 7 of this directive) and receive a total of 42 days or no more than 21 days, respectively of non-chargeable leave (including any previously authorized leave) to be used within 18 months of the qualifying birth events or adoptions. Such totals include any chargeable ordinary leave a covered Soldier took in conjunction with the non-chargeable parental or adoption leave.
Details of the Army's Paternity Leave Program
Under the Army program, paternity leave must be taken consecutively and must be taken within 45 days of a child's birth. Deployed soldiers have up to 60 days after returning to their home station to use their leave. If the leave is not taken within the above time frames, soldiers may take their leave after scheduled deployments
The Army's policy only allows paternity leave to be authorized for a married soldier on active duty, including Title 10 and Title 32 Active Guard and Reserve duty, whose wife gives birth to a child. It cannot be applied to unmarried soldiers fathering a child, and does not currently apply to soldiers who adopt a child.
Primary and Secondary Caregiver
The Army's maternity leave program allows female soldiers who give birth to take up to 12 weeks of leave, a policy that was updated in 2019. However, new mothers on active duty cannot be deployed for up to six months after giving birth. In the case of a Soldier married to another service member (for example, dual military couples), each Soldier may be retroactively designated as a primary or secondary caregiver and receive the appropriate total amount of non-chargeable primary or secondary caregiver leave. However, only one member of each couple may be designated as the primary caregiver and one designated as the secondary caregiver.
Navy Paternity Leave Policy
The Navy was the first branch of the U.S. military to implement the 2008 DoD paternity leave program. It dictates that commanding officers will grant 10 days of nonchargeable leave to a married Navy member whose wife gives birth.
The Navy policy allows paternity leave to be used in conjunction with chargeable leave. Paternity leave is not required to be used immediately following the child's birth, but must be taken the first year. It's allowable to have the 12-month limit waived if there are extenuating circumstances.
Paternity leave cannot be used consecutively with other normal time off such as weekends or military holidays, or special time-off leave such as three-day passes. And even if a sailor's wife gives birth to multiples, the paternity leave is limited to 10 days only, not 10 days per child.
Air Force and Marine Corps Paternity Policies
The Air Force requires new fathers to use paternity leave within 60 days of their child's birth. In some circumstances, at a commander's discretion, leave may be used up to 90 days after the child is born.
For Marines, paternity leave must be requested within 25 days of the child's birth. If a Marine is deployed at the time, he may be able to have his leave authorized outside that 25-day window, if approved by his commander.
As with the Navy and Army policies, paternity leave is only granted to airmen and Marines who are married and whose wife gives birth to their child.