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Key Points

  • Separations and divorces among post personnel present challenges for both the families that must deal with the stress and logistical difficulties, and for post leadership, which is responsible for assisting involved parties.
  • When providing support to employees and families separating or divorcing at post, leadership and management teams should work to minimize the logistical stresses for the family.
  • Resources are available for families experiencing a marital crisis while at post or in the United States. For a list of resources, see section ‘Additional Resources.’
  • In cases where cohabitation is no longer practical, the sponsoring employee must work with post management to facilitate the relocation of the spouse (and/or dependents, if appropriate) plus belongings to the United States or alternate overseas location, if preferred, on a cost-construct basis.
  • Employees are expected to ensure dependent(s) have access to adequate financial resources until they are financially stable and/or a final property settlement is made.

Summary

Marital separation and divorce are difficult, emotionally trying times for families. The stress and logistical difficulties of a separation or divorce can be greatly exacerbated when an employee and their family members are posted abroad. Department of State employees are expected to address personal affairs responsibly, to ease the departure of family members when needed, and to provide adequate financial support, documentation, and care for family members during periods of separation. When there is an impending dissolution of a marriage and a spouse and/or children depart post on Advance Travel orders, they may lack the resources to set up a home and sustain themselves. The sponsoring employee is responsible for ensuring that their dependents have adequate resources and support until there is final court settlement. Employees of a U.S. agency other than the Department of State still fall under Chief of Mission (COM) authority and therefore are still expected to adequately provide for a spouse/family.

Responsibilities

While divorce itself is a private civil matter, the COM and the Department have an interest in ensuring the welfare of the employee, the employee’s dependents, and the post; maintaining overall morale at post; fulfilling security requirements; and protecting the integrity of Department operations.  The Executive Office at post should advise all employees under COM authority of the responsibility to follow applicable ethics rules and adhere to the standards for continued employment.  Most employees assigned abroad may request voluntary curtailment of their tour for any reason.  Accordingly, if an employee believes that a marital or family dissolution would be handled better in the United States, that employee may seek voluntary curtailment via their career development officer, in accordance with the procedures explained in 3 FAM 2443.1.  For further assistance, employees and their eligible family members (EFMs) can seek the assistance of Employee Consultation Services (MED/ECS) as needed.  The Executive Office at post should also remind employees that they are expected to behave professionally at all times.  Employees are strongly reminded to adhere to Department policies and procedures; failure to do so may result in disciplinary action, up to and including separation.

Spouse/Family Departure from Post

If a family is unable to resolve its issues while overseas, the parties involved may decide that the sponsoring employee’s spouse and/or family will leave post.  In this case, sponsoring employees must facilitate the return of the spouse (and/or children, if appropriate) to the employee’s service separation address in the United States or to another location in the United States that the family may choose on a cost-construct basis, as outlined in 14 FAM 532.8.  Spouses wishing to depart post and travel to a non-U.S. location – such as a country of origin for non-U.S. citizen spouses – may do so via cost-constructed travel, subject to the provisions of 14 FAM 585.2, and other Department travel regulations and policies.  Employees and spouses should reach an agreement with respect to the disposition of household effects (HHE) via a signed and notarized Joint Property Statement before the spouse departs post.  Employees are responsible for ensuring adequate financial resources for the spouse and family members to establish themselves in the United States.  If the employee controls vital documentation such as, but not limited to, tax records, identification, bank statements, medical and insurance history, and school records, copies must be shared with the spouse.

Curtailment

According to 3 FAM 2443, if the COM determines that curtailment of an employee’s tour of duty would be in the best interests of the post, the employee, and/or the employee’s dependents, the COM may request that the Director General approve an involuntary curtailment.  Typically, this would occur only if the employee either does not qualify for or does not choose a voluntary curtailment.  3 FAM 2443 outlines the documentation requirements for each kind of curtailment.  Employees of a U.S. agency other than the Department of State still fall under COM authority and therefore the COM could also request involuntary curtailment through the appropriate agency.  An employee’s failure to facilitate travel arrangements for a departing spouse and/or children can be a factor the COM considers in determining whether involuntary curtailment is appropriate.  In addition, the employee is responsible for ensuring that there are adequate arrangements in place prior to the spouse and/or child’s departure from post, including provision of adequate financial resources and access to HHE.  These arrangements should endure until a final adjudication and/or final property settlement is made.

Resources for Families

The Bureau of Global Talent Management’s Global Community Liaison Office’s (GTM/GCLO) online publication “Divorce and the Foreign Service” addresses topics related to separation and divorce, including Advance Travel. GCLO’s Crisis Management and Support Services Team, the post Health Unit (including nurses, medical providers, Regional Medical Officer, and/or Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist), Community Liaison Office (CLO), and Employee Consultation Services (ECS) can provide information, resources, and support.  In addition, for Department of State employees and family members, GTM’s Office of Employee Relations Work Life Division’s WorkLife4You (WL4Y) program offers a comprehensive and confidential resource and referral service for employees and their family members who are searching for ways to balance the demands of their professional and personal lives.  Employees of agencies other than the Department of State should check with their headquarters for guidance pertaining to their agency’s employee assistance programs.  For a list of resources, see section ‘Additional Resources.’

Victims’ Resource Advocacy Program

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s (DS) Victims’ Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP) is committed to empowering victims of crimes within DS’s investigative jurisdiction including, but not limited to, domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.  Unfortunately, some divorce scenarios are predicated by or lead to violent victimization, which may trigger VRAP’s outreach to those harmed.  A representative of VRAP sits on the Department’s Family Advocacy Committee (chaired by the Deputy Medical Director of MED/Mental Health Services), based in Washington, D.C., and is committed to supporting victims.  Contact VRAP at vrap@state.gov.

Reporting Security Concerns to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security

Divorce scenarios may also involve conduct that presents concerns relevant to an individual’s security clearance.  A list of reportable actions by others is available at 12 FAM 273.2.  Individuals may report actions and/or conduct to the DS Office of Personnel Security and Suitability (DS/SI/PSS) at DSDirectorPSS@state.gov.   DS/SI/PSS will acknowledge receipt; however, any actions taken on the basis of such reports are not disclosed to the reporter.  When assessing reports, DS/SI/PSS uses the “whole person concept,” that is, considering the totality of an individual’s conduct and all relevant circumstances.  Adverse actions against a security clearance are not taken solely on the basis of a reported incident by an individual.
Personal stress, such as during a divorce or separation, can sometimes lead to violent or threatening behavior, especially within the close communities overseas, so early identification of potential problems is key.  When individuals notice behavior indicative of an insider threat, they should report it immediately to InsiderThreatReporting@state.gov.  For more information contact ITP_Education@state.gov.

Contact Information

The Department understands that separation and divorce are difficult and emotionally trying times for families, and we are here to help.  For more information about divorce when serving in the Foreign Service, contact GTM/GCLO at GCLOAskSupportServices@state.gov.  GCLO can also provide information on spousal employment, the Divorce Support Group at State, and the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) Spouses in Transition and Foreign-Born Spouses groups.

Additional Resources

U.S. Department of State

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