The wedding day is a celebration of love and the starting point of a shared life together. Once the wedding is over, the marriage begins, and married life entails a lot of practical details and decisions. Couples should discuss how they will handle many of the decisions and situations they will face—if and when they want to start a family, where they want to live and work, how they will manage the household budget, etc.
For members of the armed forces, the same life decisions and practical concerns involved in marriage need to be discussed, but they should also address the issue of deployment. Deployment presents a unique challenge to managing day-to-day affairs, and special consideration needs to be given to how the household will be managed in the service member’s absence and upon his or her return.
Members of the armed forces will almost inevitably face deployment during their tenure in the military, whether they are enlisted, officers or reserves. Because the service member will be away from home, often without regular communication capability, it is important that your potential spouse is prepared to handle the stress of being alone and can be trusted making all the financial, household and parenting decisions in your absence.
In order to allow your spouse to act in your stead while you are away, it is important to have a power of attorney established before you deploy.
Power of Attorney Considerations
A power of attorney establishes an agent (e.g. spouse) who may act on behalf of the principal (the service member) in the event of deployment (or other circumstance) that prevents the principal from being able to act on his/her own. Trust is of paramount importance when choosing a power of attorney.
Powers of attorney may be general or limited.
General power of attorney essentially gives the agent the power to make all decisions in the absence of the principal. It is a kind of one-size-fits all approach to designating decision-making authority. For instance, with a general power of attorney, your spouse may:
- Open up lines of credit in your name
- Make large purchases using joint accounts and/or lines of credit in your name
- Move the household and/or family
Having sole decision-making responsibility can be very stressful for the spouse left stateside. Without the emotional support and feedback from the deployed spouse, the responsibility may be more than one person can bear, prompting the stateside spouse to pursue divorce.
Conversely, some spouses left stateside irresponsibly exercise their sole decision-making authority. Many deployed service members come home to find bank accounts drained, debts accrued and families moved away, all of which was legal under the general power of attorney.
Service members may be able to protect themselves and relieve some stress on their spouses by opting for a limited power of attorney. In a limited power of attorney, the situations/types of decisions an agent may make are expressly stated in the power of attorney.
A lawyer must draft the power of attorney document. Free Family Legal Assistance is a benefit provided to nearly all service members. However, a service member is under no obligation to have a judge advocate general, or JAG (military lawyer), prepare the documents; a private Colorado family law attorney may draft the power of attorney as well.
Deployment and Marital Stress
Many spouses adjust reasonably well to their partner’s absence, assuming all financial and decision-making responsibilities. For many couples, the stress comes when the deployed service member returns home, and responsibilities must once again be shared.
For military members deployed into combat zones, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common. Many military members choose or by necessity must face re-entry into civilian life with PTSD unsupported. While there may be some post-deployment counseling services available (and private counseling), mental health resources are not always provided or covered by military health benefits. Even if counseling is available and affordable, many military members may feel there is a stigma in seeking help after returning from combat. Spouses often do not understand PTSD, so they are not prepared to help their partner adjust to “normal” life.
Time, distance and PTSD can result in personality and behavior changes, making the returning spouse seem like a stranger. While some changes are not lasting or are adjusted to within weeks, possibly months, after return, some changes persist and create stress in the marriage. Many military members develop unhealthy coping strategies, including alcohol and substance abuse. Unfortunately, couples counseling is not always an available or easily accessible military benefit.
If the Marriage Can’t Be Saved
In the event that the absence or changes arising as a result of deployment put too much stress on the marriage and one or both parties seek divorce, it is important to seek legal counsel that understands military benefits and issues as well as special needs of clients with PTSD.
Gordon N. Shayne has dedicated his law practice to Colorado family law for over a decade. As part of a community with a large military presence, Mr. Shayne not only has extensive experience with military benefits and domestic issues, but the Law Office of Gordon N. Shayne makes every effort to accommodate active military and veterans. Because one of the symptoms of PTSD is reduced auditory memory, all correspondence and requests are presented to clients in writing.
If you are an active, reserve or retired military service member in need assistance from a Colorado family law attorney to prepare a power of attorney, prenuptial agreement, divorce or annulment, contact the Law Office of Gordon N. Shayne.
Disclaimer: The blogs posted on ShayneLaw.com are offered for informational purposes only. These blogs are not a solicitation for legal business and should not be construed as providing any legal advice or legal opinions as to any specific fact or circumstance. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of an appropriate legal professional. To obtain legal advice or opinions about Colorado family law, personally consult with a licensed Colorado attorney.