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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 all involved at post.
  • 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 at post and in D.C. for families who are experiencing a marital crisis. For a list of online resources, see paragraph 8.
  • 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 children, 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 and compassionately, 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 expected to ensure that their dependents have adequate resources and support until there is final adjudication through the court. With regard to an employee of a U.S. agency other than the Department of State, though the Chief of Mission (COM) may curtail any employee failing to adequately provide for a spouse/family, post’s Executive Office and Management Section should seek guidance from that individual’s agency human resources point of contact.

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 of the responsibility to follow all applicable ethics rules and adhere to the standards for continued employment. If a marital or family dissolution can best be handled in the United States, employees have the option of requesting a compassionate curtailment via the Bureau of Medical Services’ Mental Health Programs (MED/MH) or Employee Consultation Services (MED/ECS) and their counseling and assignment officer, in accordance with the procedures explained in 3 FAM 2443.1. The Executive Office at post should also remind employees that they are expected to behave professionally and promote healthy work environments. Employees are strongly reminded to adhere to Department 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 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 expected to ensure 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.

Curtailments

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 ask, or in exceptional circumstances direct, that the employee’s tour of duty be curtailed immediately. 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 a curtailment is appropriate. In addition, the employee is expected to ensure 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. In some circumstances, such as where employee behavior has an adverse impact on the operations of post, the employee may be subject to curtailment from post and must then make such arrangements from a domestic location. Employees may also request a voluntary curtailment if the marriage or family dissolution can best be handled domestically. 3 FAM 2443 outlines the documentation requirements for each kind of curtailment.

Resources for Families

The Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) Global Community Liaison Office’s (GTM/GCLO) 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, 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.

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.

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, Foreign Service Institute (FSI) courses, 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

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future