what the study is about

An expatriate split family is one where an assignee works abroad ‘unaccompanied’ while his or her immediate family members remain in the home country or another location. The challenges of split families are those that many expatriate families face: inadequate assignment benefits, a lack of dual-career assistance, and the pressure to undertake serial expatriation beyond what many can cope with. 

In this study, we explore the drivers for engaging in split family assignments, and the consequences of doing so in terms of career development, family relationships, and personal well-being.

why it matters

The number of split family assignments is growing, with 20% of expatriates electing to work abroad on "unaccompanied status." There are several reasons why: unwillingness to let go of a family’s two-income status or to endure the hardship that comes with assignments to emerging markets, as well as a belief that mobility policies will not adequately meet a family's needs. Some families wish to maintain close relationships with extended family members (e.g. grandparents, cousins) or find it necessary to educate their children in a particular location and engage in split assignments as a means of doing so.

Split families exist in a variety of forms including:

  • family stays in the home location and assignee relocates with more frequent trips home
  • family and assignee relocate to the host country, and family lives in a tier 1 city while assignee commutes to a 2nd or 3rd tier city and returns on the weekend (an arrangement common in non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations when families are sent to hardship or dangerous locations)
  • family and assignee relocate to a ‘livable’ host country and assignee commutes from there to a different country

While split family assignments are used by companies to reduce the barriers to mobility and address talent shortages, there are significant personal costs to the families involved due to the separation and absence of a spouse from their partner and dependent children, and the temporary single parent status the remaining parent must assume.