Many years ago – before becoming an OPM investigator or a security clearance attorney – I was a police officer in the Los Angeles area. There were lots of aspects to the job that I loved: it was exciting, rewarding, and sometimes an adrenaline rush. There was, however, one part of the job that I tried hard to avoid: dealing with child custody disputes.

The issue arose in a variety of contexts, from supervising custody exchanges, to serving warrants for parental kidnapping, to investigating baseless abuse claims levied against one ex-spouse by the other. The constants among all scenarios were that tempers ran hot, judgment was clouded by emotions, and innocent children were caught between two parents who loved them but not each other.  That sometimes resulted in no-win situations like heated altercations in front of the children or even jail for one or both parents.

In fairness to the countless adults who get divorced each year, many for reasons beyond their control, most people can rationally, responsibly co-parent post-separation.  If you’re one of them, this article isn’t for you. There are also plenty of people – the kind I used to deal with on a regular basis – whose protective instincts default to attack mode on anything pertaining to child custody.  These are the folks who we now occasionally encounter in the security clearance denial/revocation realm.

As a parent, I do understand the bond between child and parent, and why anyone facing diminished custody rights might lash out in anger. At the same time, it’s worth remembering that children are like sponges: they soak up everything they hear and see. Parents who constantly fight, disparage each other, and require intervention from law enforcement are establishing an unhealthy framework through which their children view adult relationships from a young age. If one or both parents hold a security clearance, they may also be setting themselves up for employment problems.

We typically encounter those problems defending our clients in precisely the contexts I described encountering many years ago as a police officer. One parent alleges abuse by the other, a violation of custody or visitation rights, or some petty slight that snowballs into a major confrontation requiring law enforcement intervention. Someone goes to jail, courts and/or Child Protective Services enter the picture, and now there is a paper trail that government security officials can wield like a cudgel as evidence of poor judgment incompatible with obtaining or retaining a security clearance.

I can tell you this with certainty: I’ve never once seen a security clearance denied to or revoked from a divorced parent who places the interests of his or her children first. No matter how heated a child custody situation may get, a parent who strives to set the example for his or her children is a parent who probably won’t be calling my office with their career hanging in the balance. One needn’t be best friends with a former spouse to avoid problems, but I tell my clients that acting in accordance with the three “R’s” – rationally, reasonably, and respectfully – goes a long way toward keeping emotions in check.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit