Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder's Impact on Marriage and Children


By Don Schweitzer, Esq. and Nitasha Khanna, Esq.

The story of Chris Kyle is well known, given the huge success of the movie "American Sniper." Kyle was a Navy Seal and a war hero who had to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when he returned from war. Much like thousands of other veterans who served in combat during the past fifteen years, Kyle's military service caused a great deal of stress on his marriage. Fortunately for Kyle, he eventually assimilated back into civilian life after completion of his military service. Unfortunately for Kyle and his family another military veteran apparently suffering from PTSD took his life.

As family law attorneys, we frequently deal with broken relationships and custody disputes, as a result of a person suffering from PTSD. According to experts in the field, PTSD may develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, warfare, serious injury, or threats of imminent death. One may be diagnosed with PTSD when disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyper-arousal continue for more than a month after the occurrence of a traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD also include intense psychological distress (anger and anxiety) when exposed to reminders of the traumatic event.

People who suffer from PTSD can face various complications in relation to their family law case. Victims of domestic violence, for example, will often have difficulty finding and holding a job, as a result of their trauma and consequently, may have a greater need for support. Likewise, combat veterans who suffer from PTSD may have a diminished ability to pay child and spousal support due to the debilitating effects of the disorder, which render them unable to work or hold a job. Child custody and visitation can also be impacted by PTSD, as the disorder can cause parents to act distant and be less involved in their child's lives.

Though the Family Code does not have any specific protections for people suffering from PTSD while fighting their family law case, hopefully an awareness of the causes and symptoms, and its impact on the person's day-to-day life will allow family lawyers to be more helpful in advocating for their client's interest.