The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 18

18
DECEMBER 2013
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
guide can help smooth your path by
offering some signposts about the issues
unique to divorce in a profession where
“home is where the State Department
sends you.”
Step 1: Realize that just like Foreign
Service life, FS divorce is exponentially
more complicated than “regular” divorce
(whatever that is!).
We don’t say this to
scare you, but to warn that you will face
issues that most divorce lawyers and fam-
ily court judges have never considered.
These same lawyers and judges will make
generalizations about our profession, and
the countries where we serve, that may
simply reflect ignorance or misinforma-
tion but are nonetheless shocking.
We had one family court judge say
to us that “Bangkok wouldn’t be a good
assignment because your kids could
get sold into the sex trade there.” We’re
not disputing the existence of human
trafficking issues in Southeast Asia, but
I’m not aware that FS dependents are
even remotely at risk. Yet this is the sort
of “fact” that you will confront over and
over again, and it takes lots of patience
and diplomatic skill to educate those you
will rely on in this process about the reali-
ties of overseas life.
Step 2: Prepare for life in the embassy
fishbowl to feel even less private than it
already does.
Another hard truth, we
know, but you need to be prepared. You
will lose friends who view your personal
situation as a professional liability, or
worry your divorce is contagious. You will
lose friends who don’t want your child
to be around their children. (This one
is particularly heartbreaking, but we’ve
seen it happen—and not just to us.)
But you will also discover that a
few people—maybe some you never
expected—will be steadfast friends,
standing by you through it all. That is one
of the bright spots of this process, which
we also want to highlight.
Step 3: Get organized and do your
research.
Even if you think you and your
divorcing spouse agree on everything,
you are embarking on the most paper-
work-heavy process you have ever been
through. And if you do disagree, no detail
is too small to document now to protect
yourself later.
Start a file and a log like you are going
to be reporting to the Executive Secre-
tariat on a weekly basis. Once you get
going in the “divorce process,” you will
be asked to recall details of your financial
situation, your children’s school records
and your Thrift Savings Plan balance that
you can’t possibly imagine now.
If you have a good system for keeping
track of everything as you discuss it, your
life will be much easier when you need
to supply information to your lawyers,
your former spouse or (worst-case sce-
nario) the court. You should also be in
a start, and read every page like your
life depends on it. (Because to a certain
degree, it does.)
Trust us: There are considerations in
FS divorce that you can’t foresee, and you
need experts on your side. And that leads
us to:
Step 4: Lawyer up!
Even if your divorce
is proceeding without a hiccup right now,
and you are envisioning a peaceful post-
divorce friendship a la Demi and Bruce,
at some point things will take a turn for
the worse. This process is just so com-
plicated that even if you can discuss it
all civilly with your former spouse, there
are considerations you can’t know about
unless you are a former family law attor-
ney (in which case you should put this
article down and go do something fun!).
For example, the judge in our divorce
was unable to issue the decree at the
conclusion of the trial because Virginia
law requires proof you have been living
separate and apart from the spouse you
are divorcing for one year from the date
of separation before the divorce can be
granted. This requires either testimony in
the U.S. court or an affidavit from another
adult living in your residence—not items
most of us can readily provide from an
overseas environment.
Do your research on lawyers. Just
because someone says they “know about
the Foreign Service” doesn’t mean they
really do. We are still dealing with the
fallout from an ill-informed attorney who
did not include the State Department-
required language in our property settle-
ment on retirement payments. And this
was someone from the FLO list! So be
No matter how far away from retirement age you are,
consult with the Retirement Office as soon as you begin
the nitty-gritty of financial negotiations with your
soon-to-be-former spouse.
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