I was recently interviewed for an article on the topic of divorce for Mobility Magazine, and it occurred to me that in 20+ years working in the global mobility industry, I have never been asked to approach this question from a strategic viewpoint.
Sure, there have been the one-off situations that needed a customized resolution, but from a policy perspective, discussions of divorce and death are typically taboo or an after-thought. No one really wants to think about these possibilities when considering an assignment.
Nonetheless, it is a subject that needs to be addressed when one considers that the number of marriages ending in divorce in the USA still hovers around 50%. Certainly the stats alone validate the need to address the issue formally.
There are many complications to divorce in general, and especially when a relocation or international assignment is in process. Here are some important factors to consider:
- Divorce is a highly sensitive, personal topic and one most employees prefer not to share or discuss in the workplace. When one accepts an assignment, however, one relinquishes a certain amount of privacy – particularly with regard to family demographics since the family is integral to the decision to take an assignment, and for the company the determination of associated assignment benefits and costs. When a marriage breaks up, the company supporting the move needs to be involved as the outcome of the divorce is determined and the assignment terms invariably undergo change.
- From a policy perspective, some verbiage in the category of “miscellaneous” or “early termination of assignment” should address the fact that assignment circumstances will change as a result of divorce, the company’s intent to keep the assignee whole still prevails, but adjustments to benefits will need to take place accordingly, and on a case by case basis.
- While it is typical for an assignment to end early in these circumstances, legal separation or divorce can present an opportunity for some creative solutions. For example, when it comes to shared custody regulations, it may be necessary for the assignee to live within a certain distance from the ex-spouse residing with dependent children. Therefore in the case of a critical assignment, it may make sense for the company to provide housing for the ex-spouse as well as the assignee on a temporary basis.
Conversely, supporting the repatriation of both the assignee and the ex-spouse may also be warranted. In the long run, support of the ex-spouse may prove to be the most prudent decision on a variety of levels: it allows for completion of assignment goals, eases the transition, and in the long run, may save on costs related to lease breakage fees, extra shipments, tuition and other non-refundable expenditures.
Curious to see how divorce is impacting our client base, I conducted a brief, informal poll and found that current practices in our client base align with the industry findings:
- Slightly less than 50% of domestic relocation policies and international assignment programs in our archives include any mention of divorce.
- 43% of clients provide no support at all to the accompanying spouse in the event of divorce on assignment, while 30% have no guidelines in place, and 28% handle divorce on a case by case basis.
Based on the percentage of marriages that end in divorce in the general population, and the lack of attention the issue currently receives, it stands to reason that preventive measures such as pre-departure counseling could really assist families who are still considering assignment and who are already facing challenges in the marriage.
It’s a relatively small investment to help families make an appropriate decision whether to take an assignment. Certainly, relocation adds to rather than diminishes stress on a family, and opting out of an assignment is a good thing when it saves the company money and prevents a significant disruption to all parties involved.