Family Law Impacts of PTSD in the Defence Force

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) | The Australia Defence Forces (ADF) |Family Law Matters | The Family Court

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a particular set of reactions that can develop in people who have been through a traumatic event which threatened their life or safety, or that of others around them.  For personnel in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) this could have resulted from their experiences during war.   As a result, the person experiences the feeling of intense fear, helplessness or horror.[1]

Some people may recover without professional assistance and return to their normal live with the support of family and friends.  For others, the distressing symptoms do not subside and can intensify to the point that normal functioning at work and in their private lives is severely affected.  Veterans with PTSD are three times more likely to divorce than veteran counterparts not diagnosed with PTSD and are more likely to perpetrate physical and psychological aggression against their partner.

PTSD is an enormous problem for various groups of people in our society, including ADF members, who have the potential to be exposed to traumas that may contribute to the development of PTSD. The rates of both military and non-military related traumas are higher in the ADF than in the Australian community. From the findings of the 2010 ADF Mental Health Prevalence and Wellbeing Study, it has been estimated that 90% of ADF members have experienced at least one potentially traumatic event at some time in their life, compared to 73% of an age and employment matched sample of the Australian community.

It is estimated that approximately 8.3% of ADF members will have experienced PTSD in the last 12 months, which is significantly higher than in the Australian community (5.2%). In particular, ADF males report a greater rate of PTSD compared with the general community (8.1% versus 4.6%).

Studies also indicate that ADF members who have never deployed experience PTSD at the same rate as those who have deployed, and that length of deployment is not a useful marker of risk for PTSD. However, the number and type of traumas as well as roles on deployment, such as combat or explosive ordinance roles, may assist to identify those most at risk. Those who experience multiple traumas across their lifetime, including on deployment, are at greater risk of PTSD.

Although not an ADF related case, the Appeals Division of the Family Court of Australia (FCWA) has recently released a judgement in the matter of Kovacs & Graham and Anor (2016) FLC 93-733 allowing for the reinstatement of five appeals by the father after they had been deemed abandoned, that directly addresses the impact of PTSD on decisions in the FCWA.

On 21 October 2015, the Court had granted the mother in the matter sole parental responsibility for the three children in the family with the father having unsupervised time. Following these orders the father lodged five appeals with the court between 21 October 2015 and 3 February 2016. The father had failed to comply with the necessary deadlines for issuing the relevant paperwork in these appeals and as such they were deemed to have been abandoned.

The Court heard evidence that the father suffered from an acute brain injury and had been diagnosed with severe PTSD as a result of the extensive litigation. As such it was held that the father’s circumstances met the threshold of exceptional hardship.

This matter shows that whilst the requirement of exceptional hardship is a difficult one to meet, the Court will not hesitate to grant the relevant concessions if it is satisfied that the threshold has been reached. 

At Perth Family Lawyers our team can advise as to the impact of PTSD on your family law matter.   In particular solicitor, Ann Maude has had over 25 years of ADF experience in the  family setting and understands not only the terminology of the ADF, but also the repercussions of serving in the military on a members life, and those closest to them.  As a token of our gratitude to all ADF past and present serving members, who have sacrificed so much personally  to take on their roles, and as a result have had to leave their families in order to serve their country both abroad and at home, and  subsequently suffered great stress on their family life, Perth Family Lawyers offer a half priced initial consultation to any current or former ADF personnel who would like to meet with one of our experienced lawyers. Just mention this article, to be eligible for the half price consultation.

If you are a current or former member of the ADF and experiencing family issues that may require a family lawyer, why not call us today and book an appointment with one of our dedicated solicitors to discuss your individual issues.  You can call us on (08) 9325 8675 or visit our Contact Page. We look forward to working with you.

[1] www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety/types-of-anxiety/ptsd

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