Divorce within the Foreign Service community always involves legal challenges that can complicate the process, especially when there are children involved. Relocation, when a trailing spouse wants to return home with the children, often with no moral or financial support from their spouse–a commissioned officer–is always a challenge. Every year, Foreign Service spouses reach out to AAFSW for help in a situation of crisis, usually during a separation or divorce. Some American and foreign-born spouses find themselves under unforeseen and appalling situations of abandonment, with their family and friends spread out within the U.S. or abroad, preventing them from receiving any financial or moral support.
While there is no specific data on divorce rate within the Foreign Service community, AAFSW notes that more families have been looking into separation or divorce in recent years, often under dire circumstances for the trailing spouse and children. Without their extended family or friends around, families and couples tend to deal with unique relationship stresses living overseas, needing to re-engineer their personality or life to adjust to local contexts. Moving to a new environment and the pressures that come with leaving one’s support network at home can put a strain on marriages.
Although divorce will likely continue to be a challenging process, AAFSW is committed to supporting separating and divorcing family members in the U.S. or abroad, through mediating and negotiating among State Department’s Global Community Liaison Office, support groups and family lawyers’ networks.
Under the leadership of Dr. Lara Center, AAFSW President, Sheila Switzer, AAFSW Foreign-Born Spouse State Liaison, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, AAFSW President Emeritus, and under a strict rule of confidentiality, spouses are encouraged to reach out to AAFSW and Celine Erickson, Spouses in Transition Chair, when in a situation of distress, usually during a separation or divorce, to find support navigating through these challenging transitions.
The AAFSW Family Crisis Fund, established in 2015 (and financed by donations), helps pay for emergency expenses such as groceries, utility bills, partial rent payments, or one or two hours of legal consultation.
Please do not hesitate to contact AAFSW Spouses in Transition Chair, Celine Erickson (firstname.lastname@example.org), Sheila Switzer, AAFSW Foreign-Born Spouse State Liaison (email@example.com), or Barbara Reioux, AAFSW Office Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org),
Please find attached useful links, including the “Divorce and the Foreign Service” handbook.
Best of luck,
Celine Erickson, Spouses in Transition Chair
Please click the links below to access the information.
- Divorce is a Process, Not an Event: Resources
- Employee Responsibilities During Impending Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership
- Divorce Decrees, Court Orders and Foreign Service Annuities, Retirement (AFSA)
- Service Process
- GCLO’s Divorce and the Foreign Service handbook (PDF)
- GCLO’s webpage of divorce resources
- Divorce and the Foreign Service Handbook for Attorneys
- Pro-Rata Pension Share for former Foreign Service Spouses
- DOS Cable on Divorce and Retirement/Survivor Benefits
- 2018 ECS Support Groups
- Questions to Ask an Attorney
- Divorce Checklist for Couples
- Links for Helping Children Deal with Divorce