A Broken System: Veteran and Service Member Mistreatment

Our Nation’s Service Members and Veterans have lost homes—disability benefits—children—and lives at the hands of the courts in divorce and custody ordeals.

It’s a lifestyle that most people living in the United States do not identify with or know. "Service" is defined by many as a form of action or helpful activity in assisting others and offering a helping hand. For many men and women and their families—it is a career—a way of life—a code of conduct.

Our nation’s service members and veterans understand the definition of the word sacrifice. Many have faced horrors and become the casualties of circumstances where they have had their children taken, rights denied, property seized, benefits garnished, become homeless and sadly have taken their own lives as a result of child custody and divorce ordeals in the courts of America.

Speaking Out

Reading court pleadings full of statutes, case law, and legal arguments they often come across as flat words on paper that read like a “fill-in-the-blank” template with little originality to them. For the players in matrimonial and family law who work in these systems, the process is streamlined to a point whereby tactics and strategies appear to come out of standard playbooks. One observation, shared by many victims in these ordeals, is that both the judges and lawyers become desensitized to the hardship and devastation playing out before them. A reason for this is that to them the nature and content of what transpires is mostly just words on paper whereby any actions carried out, against good men and women, are rarely seen in the light of day.

Given the nature of these proceedings, a large portion of the public doesn’t learn of the deplorable things stated and filed in these courts because they are often washed away with settlements and protected from the public view with layers of confidentiality. Combine that with many men and women not being comfortable sharing their experiences in these environments along with perceived stigmas people fear would be attached to them for speaking up.

This silence is even more prevalent among veterans and service members. While many of the problems they face are similar to those of civilians, many issues bring forth a host of unique situations that are legally, ethically and morally abhorrent on many levels.

A Disabled Veteran and His Wife Fighting for Their Children

A former intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army, Jeff Morgan—a father and grandfather who had endured his own experience in dealing with the fallout of family courts—interviewed Josh and Jessica Jones.

Like so many who enter the military, Josh did so with the intention of making it a career—that changed when the HUMVEE he was riding in encountered a improvised explosive device (IED). This resulted in him having to leave the Army whereby he was disabled and as such received benefits. At this time his disability pension, like many other veterans in his situation, is his only source of income.

“I found out about Joshua’s situation through Kash Jackson on Facebook. When I heard about their situation, I kept on thinking, ’Is this really true? If so, how can this be happening in America? Why isn’t anyone in their hometown helping them and publicizing their story?’ I contacted Joshua’s wife through Facebook. Neither she nor Josh had any idea who I was, but I asked if I could come and find out more about their story. If their story was true, I had to try to do something. So while driving home from a trip, I took a detour to meet them and interview them. It’s often easier and more convenient to say or do nothing if you aren’t being personally affected, but I fear being the type of person who is silent in the face of evil. I try to personalize the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ’Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold me guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’ So though I may not be able to do a lot I hope that the little I can do will help other good and better people have the courage and willingness to bring about change for others.” -JEFF MORGAN, shared with permission of the quoted from an email interview

In September 2016, Josh was imprisoned for his inability to pay child support that amounted to $782. While incarcerated he was denied access to his caregiver and medications for several days. When his story got out in social media, many veterans and civilians banded together and raised the funds needed to get him released.

The interview is compelling and the emotional plea to the children is something many people--military or not—can relate to that have been involved in contentious child custody ordeals.

While the specific content of this experience is unique, and rather disturbing in terms of the behaviors and treatment by the court and players involved, it is common place for many of our nations veterans and service members.

Casualties of Court

Suicides among our veterans and service members are some of the most tragic and happening at an alarming rate. Many of these men and women have experienced the rigors of serving overseas and being engaged in combat—witnessing the horrors of war and tragic circumstances. A lot of them return home with far too heavy a burden weighing down on them from their experiences.

Second Class Citizen, is a group whose mission statement speaks to the alarming suicide rate correlating to those involved in family court ordeals in stating, “As many as one third of military suicides are attributable to contact with the family courts. Second Class Citizen assists and supports military and veteran noncustodial parents experiencing trauma and personal crisis while engaged with the family court system to prevent an already stressful event from turning into an unnecessary tragedy.”

Pie graph illustrating the breakdown of data analyzed by Second Class Citizen that correlates to issues involving family cour
Pie graph illustrating the breakdown of data analyzed by Second Class Citizen that correlates to issues involving family court and divorce ordeals

Steven Finlan, an Operations Officer for Second Class Citizen, who served as an NCO with Army Intelligence from 1995 to 2005, highlights some of the disturbing trends they have encountered in commenting on the labeling and character attacks used towards those in the military within family courts.

“There is blatant abusive disrespect and maligning of Veterans in Family Court specifically to twist their service, to make them appear as an ’unfit parent’ (e.g. verbal abuse by opposing side ranging from ’obviously a threat to kids because of PTSD’ to outrageous slander like ’professional assassin/baby killer’).” -STEVEN FINLAN, shared with permission of the quoted from an email interview

These men and women protect our way of life and represent our bravest and most patriotic in society. Often times they leave home for months—even years—sacrificing the comforts that most take for granted.

It is a disgraceful failure by our family and matrimonial legal system that these men and women—who are protecting the rights of those very same players making a living in these courts—would be treated so poorly.

The courts and players in these situations handling child custody and divorce—they are not only broken—they are unpatriotic.

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