The Global Community Liaison Office (GCLO) advocates for employees and families under Chief of Mission authority. “Divorce and the Foreign Service,” a GCLO publication, addresses topics related to separation and divorce, including Advance Travel. The Crisis Management and Support Services Team provides guidance and referral to all Foreign Service employees and family members on a range of topics related to divorce. Email: GCLOAskSupportServices@state.gov
Employee Consultation Services (ECS) provides short-term counseling and referrals for State Department employees and family members. This is a confidential, free service staffed by licensed clinical social workers. ECS has a monthly divorce support group that meets virtually.
Employee Consultation Services (ECS) — Virtual Support Group Open to Members of All Foreign Affairs Agencies and Locally Employed Staff
- Divorce Support Group
Meets the 3rd Tuesday of each month
Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm ET
Please reach out to ECS at the Department of State for additional details:
– Department of State, both Civil Service and Foreign Service employees and family members are eligible to use this service. Phone: 1-866- 552-4748 / TTY: 1-800-873-1322. For login information, contact GCLO at GCLOAskSupportServices@state.gov.
**Employees of other agencies should check with their headquarters for guidance pertaining to their contracted Employee Assistance Program.
Travel of Separated Families
The provision in 3 FAM 3724(4) that required family members to travel to the same R&R location as the employee has been eliminated. As long as travel by family members provides relief from conditions at post, and the travel is in accordance with all other provisions of 3 FAM 3720, the R&R destination of family members may be different from the R&R destination of the employee. The change will provide greater flexibility to visit relatives, address the varied interests of family members, and pursue personal and business matters.
Eligible children who are traveling under Travel of Separated Families (3 FAM 3750) regulations prohibit payment of transportation for another person to accompany a child who is visiting a parent, however, the Department of State will pay the airline fee for a child who is traveling unaccompanied. The fee cannot be used for any other purpose or to defray any other expenses.
Frequently Asked Questions about Divorce in the Foreign Service
Q: Where can an employee or spouse find information about divorce in the Foreign Service?
A: GCLO’s “Divorce and the Foreign Service” is available online and contains updated information on many topics including: counseling, departure from post, support and jurisdictional considerations, legal assistance, children and divorce, retirement and health benefits, and financial and privacy considerations. It provides a number of additional resources, as well as real life scenarios and statements by Foreign Service employees and spouses who have experienced separation and divorce.
Q: In which state should I file for divorce? I have property in VA and in FL but have been out of the United States for nearly a year.
A: To get a divorce in the U.S., one of the parties must be a resident of one of the states or possessions. This is true even if you are assigned overseas at the time.
“Residence” has two meanings:
- Place of Abode—where you are both physically present and currently living; and
- Domicile—where you are considered to reside for tax purposes.
Some states refer to “domiciled residents” and “domiciled nonresidents.” For example, a family posted to Kenya has two residences: their place of abode is Kenya, and their domicile is their home leave state or the state to which they pay income taxes.
Jurisdiction to grant a divorce is usually based on domicile. Most states require that only one of the parties be domiciled in the state in order to file for divorce. Some states, such as Virginia, require physical presence for a certain period of time, in addition to domicile, therefore; it would be necessary to return and live in Virginia for that time before you or your spouse would be able to file.
Important Note: Anyone contemplating divorce should consult an attorney practicing in their state of domicile to determine the requirement for initiating a divorce action, including possible residency requirements. Also, it may be important to learn early on if the state where the divorce will be filed is a communal property (where all property is divided 50-50%) or an equitable distribution state. This basic information may be obtained at no charge during initial consultation with an attorney through WorkLife4You for Department of State employees or Staff Care for USAID employees or through equivalent employee assistance programs for other agencies.
Q: If circumstances are such that the employee and family (spouse and/or children) can no longer live in the same official residence because of an impending separation, is the post required to find other housing for the employee, spouse (and children) at post?
A: To minimize the disruption to the children’s education or to give the spouse time to get organized, post may provide temporary housing if available; however, this is not a requirement. Curtailment is always an option and post management may determine this for the employee if there is no suitable solution at post.
Q: How can a separating/divorcing spouse leave post?
A: A spouse who leaves post before the tour of duty ends can leave using advance travel authority. Return travel of an employee’s spouse may be authorized to the employee’s service separation address in the United States (see definition of “United States” in 14 FAM 511.3) or any other location in the United States on a cost-constructive basis from the employee’s post of origin to the employee’s separation address when a permanent marital separation or divorce is intended.
The spouse will receive advance travel orders and a ticket for return to the U.S. When advance orders are prepared, the spouse may receive HHE and airfreight shipments. The HHE and airfreight should be shipped from post in the spouse’s name. The weight of the advance shipment is then subtracted from the total weight allowed at the employee’s next transfer. Airfreight is authorized per person traveling. (14 FAM 613.3-1)
Before the spouse departs post, the couple should both sign and have notarized:
- Statement of mutual consent that one partner is not deserting or abandoning the other
The employee should sign the following:
- Joint Property Statement (14 FAM 627.6) which will allow the spouse access to goods in storage
- Authorization to Receive Goods Shipped From Post, which will allow the spouse to receive household effects.
Q: Is a separating spouse eligible for Separate Maintenance Allowance?
A: No, the separating spouse is not eligible for Separate Maintenance Allowance. This allowance is not intended for situations of marital separation or divorce. (DSSR 261.1b).
Q: What if the employee refuses to sign documents allowing the spouse access to HHE from post and storage and denies the spouse (and children) financial resources necessary to establish themselves when they leave post.
A: There is a requirement for employees to provide adequately for spouse and children due to separation and/or impending divorce as stated in 22 STATE 109438 (see “Divorce and the Foreign Service” for more information). Employees are reminded that they have a responsibility to facilitate the return of their spouse (and children) to the United States or other location the family may choose. The employee is encouraged to reach a settlement with respect to disposition of household effects before anyone departs post.
The employee is also encouraged to reach a settlement with his or her spouse in order to ensure adequate financial resources for the spouse and family to establish themselves back in the United States or other location. This document, based on a Department of State cable to all posts, discusses possible actions available, if the employee fails to make these adequate arrangements.
Q: What if an employee refuses service of papers?
A: Service of papers (or service of process) refers to the serving of court orders by one party on another. The position of the Department of State is that refusal of an overseas employee to accept service reflects adversely upon the U.S. government and may result in the employee’s reassignment to the U.S. so that the service can be made and divorce proceedings can begin. A Foreign Service employee may not use an overseas assignment, or diplomatic status, to avoid service of process. (22 CFR 172.2(d)). For more information on serving papers abroad please see Section 3: Support and Jurisdictional Consideration of the Divorce and the Foreign Service online publication.
Q: Does a spouse have a right to a portion of the employee’s pension?
A: Yes, a spouse has an automatic right to a portion of the employee’s pension if the spouse was married to the Foreign Service employee for at least 10 years during their creditable service with 5 of those years while spouse was a member of the Foreign Service. Please contact RNET the Retirement Office in the Department of State at HRSC@state.gov.
Q: What about health insurance coverage for the spouse?
A: For a qualifying spouse, there is a 60* day window following the finalization of the divorce in which the spouse may opt to enroll in any of the government health plans at his or her own cost. The former spouse would not be covered under their spouse’s enrollment. The former spouse would enroll in their own health insurance policy. To qualify, the spouse must have been enrolled in one of the government health plans as a family member at any time during the previous 18 months and must not remarry before the age of 55. The spouse must contact the Retirement Office in the Department of State, or the Personnel Office of their agency during the 60 days following the divorce. (P.L. 98-615).
* In order to maintain continuity of FEHB coverage, the former spouse must submit FEHB application or a letter within 31 days of the date of divorce.
If the spouse does not qualify for a pro rata share of the pension, the former spouse would be eligible for Temporary Continuation of coverage for 36 months and must pay the government and employee share of the health premium plus a 2% administrative fee.
If the spouse does qualify for a pro rata share of the pension, the spouse would be eligible for coverage under the Spouse Equity regulations. Under this provision, the former spouse would pay both the employee and government’s share of the premium only. The administrative fee would not apply. The premium will be paid to the National Finance Center until pension begins. Once pension commences, premiums can be deducted from the pension. Coverage will continue as long as premiums are paid.
Q: How can an employee’s wages or pension be garnished?
A: Wages of an employee or pension of a retiree can be garnished for child support or alimony payment if the ex-spouse presents a court order for debt garnishment to the Office of Legislation and General Management at the Department of State, or to their agency. (5 U.S.C., 5520a(j)(2))3)
Q: Are there any other consequences for a Foreign Service Officer who is in arrears with child support?
A: Any individual owing over $2500 in child support is prohibited from receiving a new or renewed passport. This statute includes tourist, diplomatic and official passports. (P.L. 104-93)
Q: Does a foreign-born spouse of a Foreign Service Officer have the same rights regarding divorce as a U.S.-born spouse?
A: Yes. A foreign-born spouse, whether or not a U.S. citizen, has the same rights under Department of State regulations as a U.S.-born spouse. The couple should be aware that foreign marriages and divorces may not always be recognized in U.S. courts. Also, the Department of State may not recognize provisions for former spouse benefits that may be included in a foreign divorce. (Title 22, Part 19, Section19.2 (f))
Q: At what point during separation and divorce am I as a spouse no longer considered an Eligible Family Member?
A: The short answer is you remain an Eligible Family Member (EFM) as defined in 3 FAM 7120 until your divorce is final.
For EFMs currently working or seeking employment inside the mission, you remain eligible to continue working or searching for employment inside the mission until you are no longer on your direct-hire spouse’s orders or when your sponsoring employee’s (i.e, spouse) assignment at post ends.
For EFMs who are currently working or seeking employment outside the mission on the local economy, you may continue working locally or searching for employment provided your sponsoring employee remains assigned to post and is accredited by the host country. If the EFM wishes to remain in country and maintain employment with a local employer once their sponsoring employee’s assignment ends, they must obtain a work visa and work permits with their employer and the host government since they would no longer be a part of the U.S. mission.
For EFMs returning to the U.S. who have non-competitive eligibility, they retain NCE regardless of marital status. For those EFMs who have a security clearance held in the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC), FSFRC membership will terminate when the spousal relationship ends. The same is true when the sponsoring employee retires, resigns, or passes away. However, under certain circumstances an exemption may be requested see FSFRC Membership and Retention.
Q: At what point in the process is an employed, separating/divorcing EFM required to resign?
A: If an EFM is employed inside the mission on a Family Member Appointment (FMA), Temporary Appointment (TEMP), or Personal Services Agreement (PSA), the EFM would have to resign effective the date that the spousal relationship between the EFM and the sponsoring employee terminates, or when the sponsoring employee’s assignment to post ends.
If an EFM is employed outside the mission: (example: teaching at a school) An EFM may be able to continue working outside the mission, but their ability to remain in country, and locally employed would be depend on their ability to secure a visa and housing independent from the mission. An EFM would need to make arrangements with their employer to sponsor a work visa and work authorization as their ability to remain in country terminates when the spousal relationship between the EFM and the sponsoring employee ends, or when the sponsoring employee’s assignment to post ends.
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