Divorce takes its toll on men and women, and is especially hard when there are children involved. But divorce impacts military men differently than non-military men, according to several experts.
Dr. Roger Schank, Founder of the renowned Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University and author of twenty books, says one big difference for military men who get divorced is how they are able to cope with their situation. “Certainly; when men get divorced they tend to rely on their buddies to get them through,” said Dr. Schank.
“But in the military, your buddies are pretty much only the people you work with, and showing one’s sensitive side and hurt feelings is never a good at work and is even worse in a military culture. Divorced men in the military have narrower options for new relationships as well, and military men also have a harder time with their children because they are likely to be away from them for long periods.”
Divorce is a stressful situation, and the military considers financial support of families a top priority. A military man can be court-martialed for failure to financially support his family, even when there is no support order in effect.
Julia Swain, attorney with Fox Rothschild in the Family Law Practice Group, focuses her practice on all areas of family law, and also handles plenty of military divorces. She also knows firsthand that divorce impacts military men differently than civilians. “This is true from both a legal and a personal perspective,” Swain said. “On the legal front, military men have the protection afforded them by the Service Members Civil Relief Act (formerly the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act). Most importantly, this Act enables military men to postpone legal proceedings for at least 90 days. Practically, given the high level of telecommunications and the Internet, delay of legal proceedings is not often encountered because most military men are capable of participating in legal proceedings by telephone, video conference or other means from almost anywhere in the world.”
Swain believes the personal difficulties for military men going through divorce include the distance that they are stationed away from family; complications in regular communication with children and an inability to be involved in day to day activities and decisions for children. “The geographical distance can severely undermine the bond a military man has with his children, particularly if the mother is not supporting the relationship. When no children are involved, the distance may actually be a good thing because it reduces the chances for contact between divorcing spouses. Some military men get married very young due to the added financial advantages given to married military men. A word of caution however, that marriage is a legal relationship that is much more difficult to get out of than into,” Swain said.
The suicide rate is also very high for military men, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, a Clinical Assistant Professor at Brown University. He specializes in men, marriage and relationships, and said one of the main reasons the suicide rate was the highest in the military this past year was because of break-ups of relationships. “There are lots of reasons why military men respond differently than non-armed men,” said Dr. Haltzman. “They have access to firearms, and are more prone to successful suicides, and they have split allegiances compared to non-military men: first God, then country, THEN family. And women don’t usually like it that way.” He also believes that age plays a big factor. “Many of the men are young and don’t have great role models for relationships,” he said.
Michele Moore, a social worker at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System, said that divorce is not easy for any family, but it can be especially difficult for military ones.
“The stressors or difficulties are there on the military side of it, but the counter to this is military men most likely have many more resources available to them than non-military men,” said Moore. “If an active duty member is unable to cope with his/her job after divorce…they probably would not have been able to cope as a civilian. In general, the military tends to have a “harder and more intense” lifestyle and work rate than most…but still must deal with life and all that it brings.”
Dr. Schank offers some advice to help military men and their families cope with divorce. “Stay in touch with your kids as often as possible,” he said. “The Internet makes regular communication easy; but the problem is that when you have a baby or a toddler, or even a 5 year old, it isn’t so easy to have a conversation on the phone or via Skype.”
The question to address is, what do you talk about? Dr. Schank said it is important to improve communication between parents or grandparents with their families. “I created www.Imissthatkid.com which gives you something to talk about. It gives the divorced dad the chance to be his child’s teacher in the best sense of that term, guiding your child through games that teach reading, math or geography. It is possible to establish a relationship with a child when you are away with regular communication, especially in a way that engages the child. It’s possible to fight a war and help teach your child how to read and learn.”