Marital separations, divorce, and the dissolution of domestic partnerships are difficult, emotionally trying times for Foreign Service employees and their families. The stress and logistical difficulties are exacerbated while an employee is posted abroad. Some spouses, partners, and children who depart post under Advance Return of Family Travel (14 FAM 532.8) because of the impending dissolution of a marriage or domestic partnership, do not receive equitable financial support from their employee spouse/partner. As a result, they are unable to set up a home and sustain themselves. They may be put in the position of having to seek help from relatives and friends and, in some cases, from public assistance. Failure to adequately arrange for a spouse/partner or children's transition from post can reflect adversely upon the employee as well as the U.S. government.
Employees have a responsibility to act ethically and responsibly at all times, to ensure that they do not violate any of the standards for appointment and continued employment. I encourage supervisors and the Family Advocacy Officer to remind colleagues that they are expected to behave honorably and do nothing that might create an unhealthy work environment. Divorce is a civil matter, but the COM and the Department have a legitimate concern for the safety and welfare of family members accompanying employees to post and for the overall morale at post. The Family Advocacy Team at post (DCM, MED and RSO- 3 FAM 1812.3-5) or the Family Advocacy Officer may suggest curtailment if an employee’s marital, partnership or family dissolution can best be handled in the U.S.
Employees, spouses and partners are advised at post to seek counseling when there are serious stresses at home. The Family Liaison Office's "Divorce and the Foreign Service" publication addresses a range of topics related to separation and divorce. FLO's Crisis Management Officer and the Employee Consultation Service (ECS) can provide information, resources and support. The Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER/WLD) has a contract with Information Quest that can be a valuable resource for a wide range of counseling, wellness and legal issues (see Employee Relations Work Life Division page on the HR Portal). While the hope is that the family will be able to resolve its problems, the decision may be made for the spouse/partner and family to leave post and return home if this is not possible. In this case, employees have a responsibility to facilitate the return of their spouse/partner (and children, if any) to the United States or other location the family may choose. Employees begin scheduling travel by using My Itinerary. For questions about travel and shipping, employees, spouses and partners should send an email to TransportationQuery@state.gov. Employees should reach a settlement with respect to disposition of HHE effects before the spouse/partner departs post. Employees also should reach a settlement with the spouse/partner to ensure adequate financial resources for the spouse/partner, and family to establish themselves in the United States or other location.
3 FAM 1613-4 Dissolution of a Domestic Partnership requires that an employee or domestic partner of an employee who obtains benefits under the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) based on the domestic partnership must file a statement of dissolution of the domestic partnership not later than 30 days after the date of dissolution of the domestic partnership with the appropriate agency office listed in 3 FAM 1612. Failure to file an Affidavit of Dissolution of Domestic Partnership may result in disciplinary action and the recovery from the employee of the cost of benefits that should not have been received. A sample affidavit can be found by going to the HR Portal, then navigating to the Employee Relations landing page. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the link to LGBT Personnel. On the left navigation bar of the LGBT page is a hyperlink to forms where you can find the sample affidavit and other important information.
If arrangements are not made prior to spouse/partner/child departure from post to ensure that they have adequate financial resources and HHE to furnish a home, at least until they are financially stable and/or a final property settlement is made, then employees in some circumstances may be subject to curtailment in order to make such arrangements. According to 3 FAM 2443, the Chief of Mission may curtail an employee's tour of duty if it is in the best interest of post, employee or the employee's dependents. Employees may also request a curtailment if their marital, partnership or family dissolution can best be handled in that manner. Curtailment is a management decision and its potential impact is to be considered carefully.
The Victims' Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP), created by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) in November, 2010 is available to employees, or family members, who are victims of criminal behavior (related or unrelated to divorce or dissolution of partnership). The VRAP is committed to assisting aggrieved individuals in overcoming difficulties that result from victimization by providing resources to deal with the realities that follow traumatic experiences and an understanding of the judicial processes surrounding criminal offenses. Contact VRAP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone returning to, or through, DC should consider stopping by the FLO office to learn more about divorce in the Foreign Service. FLO can provide local and Department of State resources including information on spousal employment, FSI courses, the Divorce Recovery Group at State, and the AAFSW for support of foreign-born spouses.
Released August 2013
Information provided by the Family Liaison Office
Contact the Family Liaison Office