Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’s Terrible Toll on Marriage and Children

PTSD isn't just in the movies. It can strike a family like yours.

Monday, February 23, 2015 | 7:59 pm

The immensely successful Clint Eastwood film American Sniper has become a cultural phenomenon. The movie, which raked in a record $105 million opening-week box office, gave the public insights into a new kind of American hero – one who unflinchingly executed his lethal duty to protect American lives and came away haunted by what he’d seen.

Chris Kyle, the movie’s protagonist, was a real-life Navy Seal sniper who racked up 160 confirmed kills and came back to the States with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Kyle wasn’t alone. About seven or eight out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives. About 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, first responders, victims of crimes, accident victims – sufferers of PTSD come from a range of traumas and each experience their own version of hell.

Not surprisingly, PTSD can have a profound affect on marriages and families and often results in physical or psychological abuse of a spouse and children by the sufferer. The stresses on the family often end up in the courts.

“As family law attorneys, we frequently deal with broken relationships and custody disputes, as a result of a person suffering from PTSD,” says Donald P. Schweitzer, a Pasadena family lawyer.

People who suffer from PTSD can face various complications in relation to their family law case, Schweitzer says.

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 can 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.

Schweitzer heads his own Pasadena-based firm. His nuanced perspective is that of a man who has been a police officer, morphed into a district attorney and today is the founding partner of a family law firm.

It’s important to realize that the diagnosis of PTSD is beyond the expertise of most attorneys. Regardless, Schweitzer says, understanding the importance of PTSD’s effect on the people his firm represents is extremely important in today’s world because the disorder plays a role in many family law scenarios.

“An awareness of the causes and symptoms of PTSD and its impact on a person’s day-to-day life will allow family lawyers to be more helpful in advocating for their client’s interest,” Schweitzer explains.


If you have questions about child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, property division, settlement negotiations, dissolution of marriage, legal separation or paternity issues, contact the Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer at (626) 683-8113 or visit






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