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, domestic partners (as defined in 3 FAM 1600), and children depart post on Advance Travel Orders, when there is an impending dissolution of a marriage or domestic partnership, without the basic requirements to set up a home and sustain themselves. As a result, these families are put in the position of having to seek help from relatives and friends and, in some cases, from public assistance. The failure to arrange adequately for a spouse/domestic partner or children’s transition from post can reflect adversely upon the employee as well as the U.S. government.
The Front Office at post should advise all employees of the responsibility to practice good ethics and adhere to the standards for appointment and continued employment. If a marital, domestic partnership, or family dissolution can best be handled in the United States, employees have the option of requesting a compassionate curtailment via MED/MHS/ECS. The Front Office should also remind colleagues that they are expected to behave honorably and to promote healthy work environments. While divorce, itself, is a civil matter, the Chief of Mission and the Department have a legitimate concern for the safety and welfare of family members who accompany employees to post and for maintaining overall morale at post.
Employees, spouses, and domestic partners at post are advised to seek counseling when there are serious stresses at home. The Family Liaison Office (FLO) created “Divorce and the Foreign Service,” a publication, which addresses topics related to separation and divorce, including Advance Travel. FLO’s Crisis Management Officer, the post Health Unit (including nurses, FSMP, RMO, and/or RMOP), CLO, and the Employee Consultation Service (ECS) can provide information, resources, and support. The Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER) has a contract with WorkLife4You (formerly known as Information Quest) for free resources and referral services.
If a family is unable to resolve its issues, the parties involved may decide that the spouse/domestic partner and family will leave post. In this case, employees have a responsibility to facilitate the return of the spouse/partner (and children, if any) to the United States or to another location the family may choose. Employees should reach a settlement with respect to disposition of household effects (HHE) before the spouse/partner departs. Employees should also reach a settlement with the spouse/same sex domestic 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 – 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 no 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 a timely statement of dissolution of the domestic partnership may result in disciplinary action and the recovery from the employee of the cost of benefits that should not have been provided.
If there are no arrangements in place prior to spouse/domestic 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, employees in some circumstances may be subject to curtailment from post in order to make such arrangements. According to 3 FAM 2443, if the chief of mission determines that curtailment of an employee’s tour of duty would be in the best interests of the post, the employee, or the employee’s dependents, the chief of mission may ask that the employee’s tour of duty be curtailed immediately. Employees may also request a voluntary curtailment if the marriage, partnership, or family dissolution can best be handled in that manner. 3 FAM 2443 outlines the documentation requirements for each kind of curtailment.
The Front Office, HRO, CLO, the Health Unit, and members of the Family Advocacy Team at post should be aware of the Victims’ Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP), which the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) created in November 2010 to empower those who have been victimized by crimes that are under DS investigation. A representative of this office also sits on the Department’s Family Advocacy Committee (chaired by the Director of MED/MHS), based in Washington DC. 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 email@example.com.
Anyone returning to, or transiting, Washington, D.C., who wishes to learn more about divorce in the Foreign Service should consider stopping by the FLO office. FLO can provide local and Department of State resources including information on spousal employment, FSI courses, the Divorce Support Group at State, and the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) for support to foreign-born spouses.
Released December 2015