The Disturbing Effects of Lengthy U.S. Military Involvement on Divorce Rates

What effects do chronic military deployments have on Virginia divorce rates and on the health and wellbeing of military families? A new study offers shocking and sobering insights.

Since 2001, the U.S. Armed Service Forces have been deployed at record rates in places as wide-ranging as Afghanistan, Iraq and Central Africa. New research suggests that these lengthy deployments might be increasing the risk of divorce for service personnel. The RAND Corporation together with the U.S. Department of Defense analyzed diverse research and concluded that lengthy deployments may damage marriages. They analyzed information from nearly 500,000 enlisted service members, who married between 1999 and 2008, while they were actively in the service.

Here are two key findings:

  1. Someone deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan for at least a year had a 28% greater likelihood of getting divorced three years after getting married than controls did.
  2. Divorce rates for military people deployed after the 9/11 attacks were lower than divorce rates for service members who deployed before that awful day. (The researchers speculated that people who signed up for service after 9/11 might have been somehow psychologically better equipped to handle the stresses of war. Hence, the were less likely to get divorced.)

Per the Department of Defense, the divorce rate among service personnel has climbed steadily, year after year, during the 21st century. An exposé by USA Today found that the divorce rate peaked in 2011.

So what’s going on?

This research is compelling, but it carries some limitations. It only shows associations. People who go on long deployments clearly face a greater likelihood of getting divorced. But maybe something else distinguishes people who sign up for longer deployments — something unrelated that predisposes them to get divorced. For instance:

  • Maybe people willing to go overseas for a long time are, on average, less social or less inclined to want to stay in long term relationships.
  • Maybe deployment time in the service also correlates to certain socioeconomic factors or emotional or cognitive factors that could be important to this question.
  • People deployed for a long time in war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq have a greater chance of suffering a head injury. We know that people who suffer head injuries are more likely to get divorced. So maybe head injuries could partially explain the data.

The moral is this: it’s fascinating to examine divorce in a larger context, but each case is different, and each case requires a sensitive analysis. The team here at DiPietro Family Law Group, PLLC would be happy to discuss your Northern Virginia divorce case in detail. Call us at 703-370-5555 to schedule a consultation.

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