When it comes to security clearance background investigations and divorce, there are two kinds of ex-spouses: those who are receiving alimony and/or child support, and those who aren’t.

Neither alimony nor child support is a joking matter, but when I was a federal background investigator, my colleagues and I would wryly observe that it wasn’t hard to figure out who fell into which category.  The ex-spouse who couldn’t wait to give us an earful about why the subject of our investigation should never be trusted with a clearance predictably fell into the latter column.  The ones who sounded ready to recite their vows all over again were invariably counting on their ex’s paychecks to keep rolling in.

Money Talks

This dynamic sometimes catches security clearance holders off-guard, especially after an acrimonious separation.  Over the years, I’ve had a few rather bewildered clients mistakenly believe that an ex-spouse suddenly singing their praises to background investigators has had a change of heart.  At the risk of being callous or cynical, trust me: there is a reason for the sudden love-fest and it isn’t a yearning for the old times.

On the flip side, the acrimonious ex is usually pretty consistent in expressing his or her disdain for the clearance holder. It is a consistent and clearly traceable pattern of “I hate that (insert expletive-of-choice here)” from divorce filings to present.

Unpredictable Situations

The wild card in all of this is the ex-spouse who backslides from amicable to nasty years after a separation.  Those situations, which investigators see from time-to-time, typically occur as a result of two scenarios: (1) newfound knowledge of infidelity or other breaches of trust that occurred during the marriage, or (2) alimony and/or child support payments that aren’t consistent and timely.

There isn’t much that can be done about the former years after the fact, but the latter is entirely preventable absent circumstances outside the clearance holder’s control like a job loss or severe illness.  Barring unusual circumstances like these, a clearance holder or applicant who is significantly behind on alimony or child support payments will be deemed by the government to lack the requisite character for a security clearance.

The lesson?

Don’t underestimate the importance of consistent and timely alimony and child support payments.  What may seem like a satisfying way to stick it to an ex can now will only wind-up hurting the clearance holder down the road.

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 www.bigleylaw.com