Divorce can be an extremely stressful and emotional process that impacts almost every aspect of our lives. As deep as the emotional wounds may be, oftentimes it is the financial and professional scars that last the longest. The good news is divorce in and of itself is unlikely to impact your security clearance. The bad news is it is pretty easy for you (or your spouse) to do something stupid that might cost you your clearance, and ultimately your job. In this article, New Mexico divorce and family law attorney Anthony Spratley discusses how divorce can impact your LANL, Sandia, or military security clearance, and employment. 

Financial Impact on Your Security Clearance

As previously noted, divorce does not carry inherent risks to your security clearance and career.  The facts of your case, however, or other byproducts of the divorce can pose serious risks to your career and job security. One of the most common areas of concern is your finances. Divorce is expensive, and the cost of it combined with the loss of joint income can sometimes stretch your finances too thin. If you are stretched to the point where you are having difficulty paying your bills and servicing your debt and you fall into collections, foreclosure, or bankruptcy, you are also jeopardizing your clearance. For the agency you work for, serious financial trouble or excessive debt makes you vulnerable to espionage and blackmail and indicates poor judgment. Depending on your job and level of clearance, this may be an unacceptable risk and your clearance can be reduced or terminated completely. You also can’t use your divorce or your spouse handling the finances as an excuse. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse, ignorance of your spouse’s spending or your own financial matters is no excuse. Federal employees or E-7 military retirees should understand that financial missteps can be seen as an example of poor judgment that reflects poorly on your clearance qualifications.  Divorce is stressful enough without having to worry about your livelihood as well.  You obviously don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you lose your spouse, home, and job. 


Your Personal Life Can Affect Your Security Clearance

As you know, your personal life is relevant to the security clearance process and unfortunately, the facts surrounding your divorce can be as well. Investigators can access pleadings and court filings from your divorce or custody case. Additionally, if in the course of your separation you received marriage counseling because of an affair, or if the affair became relevant to your case, the agency you work for may have serious reservations about continuing to grant you a sensitive security clearance or grant you one in the first place. This can be true even if your spouse does not know about the affair as you are still raising the risk level.  The risk is especially great if the affair was with a foreign national. In fact, one of the worst things you can do if you have a security clearance is to start a relationship with a foreigner, particular if they are from China, Russia, Iran, or Afghanistan. While this may seem obvious to many, keep in mind that this does not apply only to long-term relationships. Even if you have a casual fling or one-night stand with a foreign national, or you even have an online relationship with one, you are putting your job and security clearance at serious risk. This is especially true if money changes hands or the situation leaves you open to blackmail. Remember, people have lost their clearance for a one-time visit to a disreputable massage parlor or other risky behavior. 

  Keep in mind marrying an undocumented person also poses risks to your clearance, even if your waiting for immigration reform or naturalization to take place. There have been cases of people who have clearances denied or suspended due to the immigration status of their spouse or soon-to-be ex. Disclosing the relationship and following proper procedures for obtaining permanent US residency for your spouse can help mitigate these risks. The country of origin also has an impact on risk levels.  


Your Spouse Can Also Put Your Clearance At Serious Risk

It's important to keep in mind that allegations of domestic abuse are taken very seriously at both the labs and the military. Substantiated allegations of abuse can seriously jeopardize your clearance. Unfortunately, a vindictive ex can also pose a risk as your ex may be contacted in the course of your investigation. Additionally, the pleadings and court filings in your divorce or custody case can be used by the background investigator in charge of your investigation. If you are concerned about what your ex might say about you, or what the court proceedings might reveal, notify your security officer right away. The more transparent you are, the more leverage you have. Your ex, or soon-to-be-ex can also affect your clearance with their own life decisions. If for example, they work at or open up a medical/recreational marijuana shop, they are still violating federal law regardless of our local state laws. A security clearance holder who knows about their spouse’s illegal habit or career, but choose to turn a blind eye is running the same risk as someone who marries an undocumented person. Knowingly breaking the law will not endear you to your investigators. The bottom line is, you can also be held responsible for your spouse or you’re soon to be former spouse’s behavior.


Should I Self Report? 

So you made a mistake. Whether your ex is making outrageous allegations or you missed a few car payments, your still faced with the choice to either disclose some embarrassing information to your agency or just keep quiet.  If your thinking your agency won’t find out if you just don’t tell them, consider if it's worth the risk. The SF-86 will ask some very tough and specific questions about your personal relationships and interactions with foreigners. Non-disclosure or dishonesty isn’t a great option when your hooked up to a polygraph test. Not disclosing will certainly not do you any favors when the agency eventually does find out.  Self-reporting can buy you a little bit of leverage as you at least did the right thing in the end and reported the indiscretion before you were compelled to do so. However, this leverage will only go so far with the agency and should not be considered a get-out-of-jail-free card. While I can’t say that self-reporting will save you, it does provide some mitigating factor in the event of some problematic circumstances. If you believe your ex will try to sabotage you during your investigation, get out in front of it and tell your security officer ahead of time. 


If you have some skeletons in your closet or you think some aspect of your personal relationships, divorce or finances might be questionable, you should definitely contact an attorney. Do so before even filling out your SF-86 as many issues or potential issues can be dealt with by properly filling out your SF-86 in the first place.  Similarly, DOD or DOE may make a request for additional information or a request for derogatory information. Many people walk into traps in these situations by not answering specifically enough. So unless your record is totally spotless and your conscience totally clear, its best to consult with an attorney both during your divorce and during your security clearance review or self-reporting. 


Do I Need An Attorney? 

The best way to minimize the impact a divorce can have on your case is to handle the case right from the beginning and proceed with your career and clearance in mind from day one. The only way to do this is to consult a divorce attorney who understands the intricacies of New Mexico family law as well as the federal clearance process. Remember, an upfront, short-term investment can pay off in spades and save you far more money in the long run. When you have a lot to be proud of, you also have a lot to lose. Don’t risk your family, assets, and even job security. Protect your success and contact the experienced divorce attorneys at Genus Law Group. Not only do we have the experience, skill, and resources to handle complex or high assets divorces, Anthony Spratley, the owner, and founder of the firm is a former USAF JAG. This combined with the fact that, unlike the other big law firms in the state, Genus Law only practices family law, means that our sole focus is getting you the best possible outcome in your divorce or custody case. 


If you work for Los Alamos or Sandia National Labs, or your a current/former military member, and you need help with divorce, custody, alimony or child support, contact us at 505-317-4455 or chat with someone now using our online chat function so you can start solving your problem, today!

Anthony Spratley
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Experienced Divorce, Child Custody, and Guardianship Lawyer Serving Albuquerque and Beyond