The Foreign Service Journal - March 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2018 41 to school? How would she book a flight out of post? How would she rent an apartment or buy a car, without any income of her own? How would she find a job after all of her years with a patchy EFM resumé? “You’re dealing with: My marriage is over. My life is upside down. But his life just goes on. He wakes up in the morning, and he still has his job. He has his house, he has his girlfriend [a local employee at the embassy]. But his family has nothing; we’re spinning out of control.” She was resentful, she says. “I gave everything to his career. You give up so much of your control. You just give that away. I felt like I should’ve done more to protect myself. Why didn’t I think more about the what-ifs? I felt like a 1950s housewife.” She pauses, then sighs, “Way to be a Foreign Service cliché.” Another EFM, Jean, says she started the divorce proceed- ings herself when her marriage began to disintegrate while they were posted in the Caribbean. Says Jean, “It was the worst moment of my life. I was terrified of leaving my kids—no career prospects, and nowhere to live, plus their being settledmeant they would stay with him.” Jean also read the FLO handbook, where she learned that she needed to sign a “Statement of Mutual Consent,” a form stating that she was leaving due to an agreement with her spouse, and that it didn’t constitute abandonment of her children. She left post 48 hours later and flew back to the town where her mother lived, where she met regularly with a therapist and even- tually enrolled in school. “I didn’t want to go somewhere where I had nothing,” she explains. “I had never gotten a degree, so my experience was all I had. I planned on going to D.C., but after looking at what I would make (not very much) compared to where I could afford to live, I decided that it wasn’t a feasible solution. Especially if I didn’t get a job.” Legal Counsel Is Important Two years have passed since Jean left post without her chil- dren. Looking back, she says that “the biggest mistake I made, that I would tell every EFM to avoid, is not getting a lawyer. My ex and I wanted to do it amicably. I did fight hard for the things I wanted, and I got most of them. But I was in a now- minded mentality. I didn’t think too hard about the future. ... I wish I’d done things differently for the custody agreement. I’m living now with my mistakes, trying hard to change things that I don’t have much power over. Divorce papers are very final.” Jennifer agrees that good legal counsel is important, because there are many significant financial and custodial decisions to be made together. She also moved back to her home- town, hoping for support from old friends and family. Her ex-husband supported her finan- cially while she made the transition. Without financial support from the FS employee, she says, “I don’t know what you’d do. You’d have to lawyer up immedi- ately.” She has spent more than $15,000 on legal fees since she moved back to the United States from South America. Each spouse needs to have separate attorneys, and both attorneys need to be licensed to practice in the state where you plan to seek a divorce. Make sure your attorney has experi- ence working in the Foreign Service community. (For a list of places that provide legal referrals and mediation services, see the sidebar on p.42.) Can Embassies Step Up? Divorce overseas is seldom discussed. The family leaves the country, the employee keeps working, and life at the embassy moves forward as if nothing ever happened. But it leaves behind an undercurrent of worry within the community. “It really shook up a lot of the wives, to see a whole family gone overnight,” says Jennifer, especially when the woman involved in her divorce kept her embassy job and was frequently seen staying overnight at Jen- nifer’s old house with her former husband. And while she lauds the help FLO gave her throughout the transition, she believes that embassies need to take on a stronger supporting role. “People at post knewmy situation, but it was all very hush-hush. No one even acknowledged that it was happen- ing. It would be nice if there was someone at post—the RMO? the CLO?—designated to check in with the family, to see if there Nobody in the State Department tracks the numbers, so it is impossible to say for certain how many Foreign Service spouses face divorce while posted overseas.