Carsten Reisinger/

Four Ways Your Spouse Can Screw Up Your Security Clearance

If you can’t trust your partner, the government can’t trust you.

When someone obtains a security clearance, the government is making a decision to allow that person access to classified information. But qualifying for a clearance goes beyond just a single individual. Your spouse or partner is intimately involved in the process, from being included on your SF-86 background investigation paperwork to being interviewed to, in some cases, tanking your chances of obtaining or keeping a clearance.

Here are four ways your spouse or partner can affect your security clearance.

1. House of Cards

If you have a security clearance and you let your spouse manage all of your finances, you should have a very high degree of trust about his or her ability to spend responsibly. A federal contract employee and E-7 military retiree learned the hard way that it’s a bad idea to turn a blind eye to the outflow of family money.

After racking up $50,000 in consumer debt, the employee admitted the debt was due to “his own stupidity,” as well as letting his spouse handle the finances. But just as ignorance of the law is no excuse, ignorance of your spouse’s spending is no excuse. The Defense Department of Hearings and Appeals  affirmed the denial, and the judge specifically cited allowing his spouse to manage all finances was an example of poor judgment, and not the level of responsibility expected of a clearance holder.

2. Foreign Affairs

If you marry an illegal immigrant and you’re waiting for immigration reform efforts to set the record straight, don’t expect a sympathetic clearance determination. In one case before the appeals court, a clearance applicant had married an undocumented Mexican woman. The man’s clearance was denied, and the appeals court noted: “An applicant who is involved in a relationship with an individual who is in the United States illegally displays questionable judgment because of his continuing association with a person involved in criminal activity.”

When it comes to affairs of the heart, transparency—and country of origin—matter. In another case, a woman with a Top Secret security clearance married an Israeli citizen. She was able to keep her clearance for several reasons. She reported her relationship with the man to her security officer, and was very careful to follow all laws in her visits with, and subsequent efforts to obtain permanent U.S. residency for, her spouse. Israel being a democracy and an ally of the U.S. was also a factor. According to the court, “The risk of coercion, persuasion, or duress is significantly greater if the foreign country has an authoritarian government; a family member is associated with, or dependent on, the foreign government; or the country is known to conduct intelligence operations against the United States.”

3. Divorce Court

Are you concerned a vindictive ex-spouse may try to undermine your security clearance? You’re not alone. Divorce proceedings are stressful enough as it is, without having to factor in the potential loss of your livelihood. An ex-spouse may be contacted in the course of a background investigation, and your legal filings in divorce court may be used by your background investigator in the course of your investigation. If you’re concerned about what an ex might say about you in the course of your investigation, note that in your SF-86, along with character statements or supporting documentation.

If you already have a security clearance and begin divorce proceedings, notify your security officer right away. The more transparent and upfront you are about your divorce and the reasons behind it, the better off you’ll be.

4. Illegal Pursuits

A writer to recently asked whether his spouse’s decision to work at a recreational marijuana store in Denver would affect his security clearance. The answer? Probably. While recreational marijuana use has been legalized in several states, it still runs counter to federal laws. The Office of Personnel Management recently reminded federal employees of that in a memo, which stated:

“Federal law on marijuana remains unchanged.  Marijuana is categorized as a controlled substance under Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act.  Thus knowing or intentional marijuana possession is illegal, even if an individual has no intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense marijuana.”

A security clearance holder who knows about his spouse’s illegal habit (or career choice), but chooses to turn the other cheek is similar to the clearance holder who married an illegal immigrant. Knowingly violating a law, even if it’s on principled belief, is not looked upon favorably by the federal government.

The bottom line? If you have a federal security clearance or need one for the course of your duties, you need to make your spouse aware that his or her actions have a direct effect on your employability. Whether it’s bad spending habits which lead to bad credit, or a vindictive streak which may lead to false accusations in an interview, you will be held responsible for your spouse’s behavior. In the eyes of the federal government, your ability to maintain a relationship of trust, understanding and integrity with your spouse is a reflection of your ability to do so with Uncle Sam.

Lindy Kyzer is the editor of and a former Defense Department employee.

(Image via Carsten Reisinger/