I Never Planned on Being a Soldier and a Solo Mom
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It is not uncommon for young military members to meet, get married, and have children. The military has prepared for that eventuality with the requirement of care for all children, no matter whether the soldier is single, married to another service member, or married to a civilian, with the Family Care Plan. Because of the unique demands on military members—long duty hours, extended deployments, and frequent travel—the care of their children is paramount. The Family Care Plan provides for custody transfer and detailed instructions on care in the absence of one or both parents.
Despite this unique level of child-care preparation relative to civilian families, it does not make an unexpected divorce less jarring for a military couple when both serve. If you are a married female military member with children and anticipating becoming or suddenly find yourself a Solo Mom, it’s best to understand up front that you will face some unique challenges and have to make some difficult decisions. This is because the military does not have time to accommodate you or your family in your new life situation. You cannot suddenly choose to work from home or ask for less work hours so you can be at home for your kids. In the military, the mission comes first. That is why Family Care Plans exist, to provide for every unexpected circumstance.
As a new Solo Mom in the military, you will have to figure out custody arrangements with your military spouse, who also faces deployments, travel, and all the other demands of military life. Before your divorce, you will already have this documented in your Family Care Plan, but arrangements will likely change postdivorce. If your divorce has been ugly and contentious, figuring out new custody arrangements might become exceedingly difficult, especially if the divorce has divided your extended family who previously agreed to care for your children in your absence. You must consider child care in the event either or both of you are deployed, as well as in the event of your untimely death.
The strains on your children will be greater than those of children of divorced civilian parents. They will have to divide their time between two busy military parents, knowing that at any time a deployment could cause them to be uprooted and placed with new caregivers for an indefinite period of time. Although difficult to hear, it’s important for military Solo Moms to be fully aware of the unique demands they and their children will face.
If you believe you will be divorcing or are a newly divorced military Solo Mom, it is paramount that you seek legal counsel before making any of these difficult decisions regarding your children’s welfare. The military offers free legal advice, some of which is listed on Military.com. These resources offer advice on housing, financial division, and other common divorce issues.
What are the other options available to you? You always have the option of not reenlisting if you’re an enlisted soldier, or resigning your commission if you’re an officer once your contract is up. Only you can assess your current rank, position, financial standing, and what is in the best interests of your children to determine if leaving the military is the best course of action. Again, it is best to consult with an attorney to ask for assistance in sorting out these options. The military will also consider well-documented and substantiated requests for a hardship or dependency discharge. You can learn more about that option at GI Rights Hotline.
The other resource readily available to you is your fellow soldier Solo Moms. Don’t be afraid to talk to them and ask about their experiences. They can be not only a great form of emotional support but also a great resource for legal and financial guidance. Angie Ricketts, ESME’s Veterans’ Assistance/Military Families Resource Guide, wrote about military Solo Mom Asibi Gardner and her experience over four deployments. Ricketts can also help you locate fellow female soldiers who are in the same position as you.
Are you or were you an enlisted Solo Mom? We’d love to hear from you. What challenges have you faced, and what have you learned? Feel free to join Sisters Only to meet other moms like you!
A fourth-generation Montanan, Andre Zollars is a former U.S. army major who has also held management positions in marketing with MCI and the Sacramento Bee. She now resides in Lewistown, Montana, with her husband, four kids, three dogs, a cat, and a horse. Andre has published in print and online publications, including USA Today Travel, Yahoo! News, Livestrong.com, Big Sky Journal, and more. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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