The Foreign Service Journal, September 2012

A Foreign Service post is a community. People you work with may also be friends, neighbors, fellow parents and providers of day-to-day essential services. In such an envi- ronment, divorce overseas can directly affect relationships with colleagues and may even affect the operations and productiv- ity of a post. Working closelywith the department’s Family LiaisonOffice, theOffice ofMedical Services and others, AFSA is in the process of developing best-practices for possible divorce scenarios: an employee or employees divorcing in the U.S.; an employee divorcing a non-employee spouse overseas; and a tandemcou- ple divorcing overseas. Anagencywill reduce its own liabilityby channeling its actions through the employee (legal restrictions might require it to do so). The core relationshipbetween employer and employee gives the FS officer considerably more control than would normal- ly be the case. This may cause the spouse who is leaving the Foreign Service to have a greater need for assistance. Rules protecting employee rights can be abused to restrict access by the “departing spouse” to household effects, or other joint property such as a car, insurance and bank accounts. In the case of a foreign-born spouse, the employee may convince the spouse that he or she has no rights at all. WhenMEDor the Bureau of Diplomatic Security becomes involved, this can prove to be a double-edged sword. In cases of domestic abuse, DS must follow up by bringing the abuser to justice. Equally, if substance abuse is the issue, MED inter- vention may be required. However, AFSA has also seen cases whereDS has focused so strongly ondeveloping a criminal case that its actions (e.g., pushing an allegedly abused spouse to tes- tify against the other spouse) impede the resolution of other- wise resolvable issues. Recently, we have become increasingly concerned with the DS focus on extramarital affairs and similar “morality police” issues. Despite theDS assertion that affairs carry the riskof black- mail, inmany cases the spouse is aware of the affair. Such issues need not end a marriage, but are more likely to lead to divorce if DS turns theminto disciplinary or security clearancematters. Conversely, we have also seen cases of false accusations made by divorcing spouses intent on improperly initiating a discipli- nary or security clearance process to punish their ex. Many potential issues canbe avoidedwithplanning and fore- sight: • Divorce is always easier between posts or while both parties are “independent” of State Department support. Legal matters, such as serving documents, are easier if both parties are in the U.S. It should never be assumed, howev- er, that simply bringing people back toWashington is a solu- tion. For some couples, divorce may be more practical else- where in the U.S., or even overseas. But it is usually most difficult at post. • Separationofgoodsiscomplicatedwhenitemsareinstor- age or must be shipped from post . Although inappropriate, it is not uncommon for the employee to restrict access to such items by the departing spouse. Therefore, it is extremely impor- tant to allowpeople to pack themselves out of post, and to have access to their residence to do so. Home leave or separation addressesmay reflect the home town of one spouse but not the other. In some cases, the spouse leaving the FS may wish to settle elsewhere. Designating where household effects can be shipped should be made before separation occurs. • Access to information and forms is important. Care should be taken to ensure that both spouses are directly informed, and that information is not provided solely to the employee. Spouses must have access to the department’s intranet, where most information is available. (Many com- munity liaison offices at post provide such access.) Posts should not assume that tandem employees know things merely by virtue of their employee status. Foreign-born spouses are less likely to be fully aware of their rights and, in addition, may be subject to other issues. We have heard, for example, of an employee using a foreign-born spouse’s ignorance of the nat- uralization process to coerce that spouse into giving up cer- tain rights in a divorce. • As in any divorce, efforts should be made to preserve a stable environment for children. Whenever possible, depar- ture frompost should coincide with the school year. The tim- ing of other issues, whichmay include child custody, insurance or marriage counseling, should also be considered. All couples consideringdivorce shouldget legal advice. Many questions are addressed inFLO’s booklet Divorce and the Foreign Service , available in the CLO and on FLO’s Web site at The department’s EmployeeConsultationService is a good resource for confidential counseling services, and FLO staff can provide information on a range of divorce issues to both employee and spouse. Dealing with Divorce V.P. VOICE: STATE BY DANIEL HIRSCH Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP. S E P T EMB E R 2 0 1 2 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L 55 A F S A N E W S