Why's the military so toxic for marriage AND divorce? The best-expressed and newest insights.

Carl Forsling repeats several often-heard, and quite true, observations about how the military is bad for marriage, plus some insights that are original but intuitively very convincing once he points them out. Which explain why it's also so hard on divorce.

"Divorce — it’s no stranger to those in the military. At the same time, the military is a very tradition-minded institution, so divorce is often treated like the family secret no one talks about. ... some commanders have very black and white attitudes in regards to marriage. ... surprisingly prevalent in an institution where divorce is commonplace. The military attracts strong personalities, and they tend to either be very religious with very traditional views of morality or very not."

Very true. I'm more familiar with the strong personalities who are very non-traditional about marriage -- well, they may be traditional and sentimental about it in some ways, but in ways that get them married five times and divorced four times, if they're lucky. And hopefully with a divorce between each marriage. Or divorced early and married never again. Sometimes getting taken advantage of royally, as they see it, in their first divorce, and then becoming determined that next time, and every next time, they will be the ones in the relationship with the power, the knowledge, the leverage and the manipulation. Whether that's in a divorce or in devoutly unwed cohabitation. 

On the other hand, there are many who are honorable and generous to a fault. Or who want what's best for their kids even if it isn't best for themselves. 

Many, whether honorable or manipulative, are gung-ho and unashamed of whatever course they're pursuing, in divorce, adultery or whatever. If they're war veterans, they usually have a sense of entitlement, understandably. The military rightly tells them that they and their jobs are important, and that the civilian world should accommodate them. They may see divorce and other family breakups as just part of the petty civilian-life BS that the military requires them to take care of, but that could never be compared in importance to their mission or their careers.

And yet again, there's another side of this: Timid careerists who are always looking over their shoulders. Junior officers who are expert at creating paper trails to shift blame and responsibility to others, and who think that will work for them in family court.

I've only recently begun to see the very religious and neo-traditional officers and servicemembers the author talks about, but I know they have been out there for quite a while now.

He has a refreshing point of view on a practice that is widespread, widely advised, encouraged by regulations, but which also can make civilian courts get really mad at spouses and treat them like stalkers who are trying to destroy the careers they have benefited from:

"On top of that, some hurt soon-to-be former spouses have in the past called up commanding officers and sergeants major, and in today’s “pro-family” military, those leaders usually picked up the phone to an earful of often highly exaggerated drama. Sometimes those senior leaders rightfully take it with a grain of salt. Other times, service members get chewed out or worse based on the spouse’s account of events that may or may not have happened as described. ... Many units now have “human factors” or “commander’s safety” councils, wherein members’ personal lives are aired out in the name of “safety.” Guess who gets talked about in those? In today’s environment, where the phrase “perception is reality” is too often said without irony, too many service members end up with their reputations tarred." 

(That's not just "in the past", by the way.)

As for two well-known factors that weaken military families, he describes them freshly and eloquently:

"Service members often marry young. Part of that is the rapid maturation the military forces on people, part of it is undoubtedly bad decisions based on housing allowance rates, and part of it is ironically likely the military’s old-fashioned views on marriage. Whatever the reason, marrying young is not a good indicator of matrimonial success."

"Add in the deployments, long hours, etc., and things don’t bode well for military couples. There are some marriages that thrive despite the challenges — as those in the military are fond of saying, 'What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.' For others, though, what doesn’t kill them severely damages their relationships."

Another factor Forsling doesn't mention: The continuing reluctance to seek mental health treatment for reputation and career reasons. That has been a huge problem in many of my cases.

He concludes: 

The military has made a big push to be more family friendly in recent years. ... As it tries to be better for traditional families, it needs to improve the culture for non-traditional ones, as well."

That's so true. Our society needs to understand that being pro-family means strengthening intact nuclear families, but also honoring all family bonds and strengthening what's left of "broken" families too. 

The Military’s Problem With Marriage

 

Military Archbishop's statement casts pall over gay servicemembers' funerals, other services

The Archbishop for the Military Services has issued a statement which does not say definitively, but raises grave doubts about, whether a Catholic Chaplain could perform a military funeral for a servicemember in a gay marriage without refusing to acknowlegde the spouse. It says:

A priest may not be placed in a situation where his assistance at a funeral for a Catholic would give the impression that the Church approves of same sex “marital” relationships (see CIC, c. 1184, §1,3º). In the case of doubt, the Archbishop for the Military Services, USA must be consulted (see CIC, c. 1184, §2).

On weddings, couples' retreats and counseling, the statement only talks about what priests may not be "forced" to do. It addresses other topics, including gay lay ministers and lay Catholic commanding officers providing various services to gay servicemembers and families.

Excerpts from "Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio Issues Guidance to Catholic Military Chaplains on Same-Gender Relationships".

 No Catholic priest or deacon may be forced by any authority to witness or bless the union of couples of the same gender.   

No Catholic priest or deacon can be obliged to assist at a “Strong Bonds” or other “Marriage Retreat”, if that gathering is also open to couples of the same gender. 

A priest who is asked to counsel non-Catholic parties in a same-gendered relationship will direct them to a chaplain who is able to assist.

 Participation in retirements, changes of command, and promotion ceremonies is possible, as long as the priest is not required to acknowledge or approve of a “spouse” of the same gender.

Lay Ministries: Obviously, anyone who is known to be in a sinful relationship is excluded from ministries in the Catholic community.  While this list is not intended to cover every situation, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers, catechists, and members of the Catholic Council immediately come to mind.

 We are also mindful of the Lord’s words, “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone…” (Jn. 8:7b).  The Church must minister to all regardless of their sexual inclination.  While the invitation to conversion cannot be diluted, the door to the mercy of Christ, obtained through His Cross, must be kept open.  Priests and deacons will be guided by the principles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf. nos. 2358-2359) and never forget that it is the sin that is hated and never the sinner.

Catholics who exercise command positions ... can be faced with additional questions as they fulfill their responsibilities to those above and below them in the chain of command. Consequently in response to a doubt raised by the AMS regarding the question of a person’s possible cooperation with evil, the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) stated: “Commanders of United States military installations/veterans’ facilities (hereafter, ‘commanders’) would not be engaging in morally illicit cooperation, but rather tolerable remote mediate material cooperation with evil by implementing federal employee benefits accruing pursuant to same-sex marriage, as required by United States v. Windsor.  Our determination is contingent on the situations in which commanders are unable to avoid such cooperation without jeopardizing their own just right to their employment security for themselves and/or their families.  This is also contingent on the commander making known his/her objection to being required to so participate, as well as on attempting through legal channels to continue to accomplish changes in policy consistent with the historic understanding of marriage and family as based on natural moral law.  Also, if without incurring a demotion of loss or downgrade of position/rank/grade or other serious harm, there is a mechanism to have others more senior in the chain of command to carry out the implementation of such policy, this should be pursued.”

Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio
Archbishop for the Military Services


Veterans Administration to offer latest, best marriage-skills therapy & education

The latest in marriage-saving technique is being deployed in an area of society where it is sorely needed -- our veterans and their families. This story from the PAIRS Foundation, a longtime leader in the marriage education field whose curricula have been used by the American Bar Association and thousands of other providers around the country, says that V.A. chaplains, counsleors and therapists from around the country are getting trained in "evidence-based skills for improving interpersonal communication, emotional understanding and expression, and healthy conflict resolution." The program was developed by the PAIRS Foundation and funded with a three-year grant from the V.A.’s Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation Initiative. 300 professionals have been trained in New York, San Diego and Georgia. More trainings are scheduled for  San Antonio, Indianapolis, San Diego, and Hampton Roads.

"V.A. Expands Efforts to Help Chaplains Boost Veteran Marriages and Family Resilience" - Fatherhood Channel 7/3/12

 


Divorced feds, vets must now change beneficiaries manually – Va. court

Divorced federal employees, retirees, servicemembers, and veterans need to check their beneficiary designations in the wake of a recently overturned Virginia law.

The Virginia Supreme Court has overturned as unconstitutional a long-standing Virginia law that automatically changed beneficiary designations for life insurance policies after divorce (Va. Code Sec. 20-111.1). The Court’s decision applies to life insurance benefits for federal employees, veterans and military personnel.

The reason the law is unconstitutional is the doctrine of federal preemption of state laws under the United States Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. Also, the federal government has “sovereign immunity”, so that a state court can only make an order affecting federal benefits if Congress has specifically made a law allowing the states to do something with that benefit in a certain prescribed way. For federal and military pension Survivor Benefits, Congress has authorized states to do this in divorces, but when it comes to insurance, it has not. In fact, the federal statute creating and governing Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI), in its section on designated beneficiaries, has a provision expressly preempting state legislation that conflicts with it.

The Virginia statute’s drafters anticipated the possibility of federal preemption of it, and so the statute specifically provides that if it is inoperable as to a particular kind of insurance because of federal preemption of the state statute, then the same net result between dueling insurance beneficiaries shall be achieved by using a “constructive trust” on the insurance proceeds, so that the person named as beneficiary must turn around and pay them to the person who otherwise would be the beneficiary. If you think that doesn’t exactly pass the smell test, and the state seems to be deliberately nullifying and undoing the actions of the federal government, the Virginia Supreme Court agrees with you. It points out, however, that it is joining a small minority position on this question: most states’ courts that have addressed the issue think such statutes are just fine. [NEWS FLASH: The latest is Hardy v. Hardy from Indiana's Supreme Court, March 14, 2012.]

The Virginia statute also applies to any kind of “death benefit”, such as designated beneficiaries of accumulated retirement contributions for employees and servicemembers who die before retirement. The court decision does not say anything about those other kinds of benefits. But federal employees and servicemembers would be wise to check and correct those beneficiary designations, too.

Two dissenting justices argued that the provisions of the FEGLI Act were designed to protect the federal government from getting entangled in disputes between rival beneficiaries, and NOT for the purpose of actually giving more benefits to divorced spouses instead of new spouses; and that therefore Virginia’s “preemption workaround” provision was perfectly constitutional, because it makes the divorced widows pay the benefits to the new spouses while keeping the federal government uninvolved.

On a practical level, unfortunately, neither way of deciding this issue is workable, fair or convenient for everybody. The Virginia statute is one of those laws that is designed to do for people by default what most people would choose to do if they attended to their affairs – to remove a divorced spouse from being the beneficiary except in cases where the separation agreement or divorce decree specifically says that they will stay the beneficiary. Many of our clients have rightly been told over the years that the law does this automatically, and have probably relied on it. On the other hand, many servicemembers, veterans, and federal employees have been told by the federal government over the years that they must change their beneficiary designation upon divorce if they want their insurance beneficiary to change. We have had people come to us whose deceased exes deliberately chose to do nothing about the beneficiary designation because they logically inferred, from all those federal warnings, that the beneficiary designation would change only if they changed it, and they wanted the ex-spouse to stay covered. So this is a case where either result would predictably lead to some injustice for quite a few people. But this is certainly the right result constitutionally.

And what we need to do about it is very clear: all federal employees, retirees, servicemembers or veterans who ever got divorced in Virginia or now live in Virginia should make sure that their beneficiary designations reflect their wishes, or their obligations under divorce decrees or agreements.

For more of the legal details see Richard Crouch’s case note about this case.