How do stay at home moms get divorced?

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Many women assume they will just live off child support and alimony in the event that they divorce. They are often shocked that is not the case. There is a growing movement towards equally shared parenting, and thanks to feminism and the opportunities that women have today, judges expect both parents to be adults, work, earn and pay their own bills.

In some cases, a judge may award the lesser-earner alimony, especially if you are a stay-at-home mom who has been out of the workforce many years. But that is not always possible.

Take me, for instance. I was married to a really nice, devoted guy who made a handsome income. We had a baby, bought life insurance, set up automatic contributions to our retirement accounts and emergency savings, and even started a college fund. He had disability insurance, but that never came into play after he fell off a cliff and nearly died of a brain injury – of which the lingering and devastating symptoms played a big role in dissolving our marriage.

Who could have planned for that? That is a crazy story. Not so crazy are these scenarios:

  • Divorce
  • Unemployment
  • Death of a spouse
  • Disability
  • Life. Stuff just happens and you have to stop working.

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When I had my first child I’d enjoyed a lucrative freelance writing business, which I cut down to about third-time after Helena was born. After my ex moved out, I quickly ramped up my workload. So when the child support and health insurance stopped because he was fired (again, related to the injury), I was able to swing my family financially, even after I had another baby.

Had I not had a career, or an ongoing business, my son, daughter and my life would be in a very, very different place. We would likely be broke. I would be angry. I would be selling stuff I really care about and making decisions about our futures out of fear instead of love and happiness. I would have fewer choices, less power.

What to do when you can’t afford to leave your husband?

Of course, money really does matter — a whole lot. In fact, I’d argue money matters more than love. After all, if you are asking What to do when you can’t afford to leave your husband? You likely no longer love your husband, and need money to get on with your life. You might even need money to get yourself and your kids out of a dangerous or abusive situation.

“Afford” is a relative term. Are you worried about maintaining your current lifestyle, and staying in your nice zip code with good schools? Or are you actually penniless and unable to rent a room and buy food?

First of all, if you don’t have a job, get a job. Here is my list of work-at-home careers and gigs. If you have a job, work towards a raise or promotion. Take on a side gig.

Put your money in your own, separate account that your husband has no access to. I advise this for all women, but if you are in splitsville mode, you need to make sure that you have cash on hand. Once divorce proceedings start you must declare this account for a fair splitting of assets, but until then you need that money. Don't forget to keep an eye on your credit score.

Now, call an attorney. Tell them your plans, your family’s financial situation, and get a sense of what you are looking at financially during and after a divorce. Now, no matter if a lawyer tells you that alimony or a big settlement are likely (which they are not for most women), stay focused on earning and building your own income and wealth. Do no under any circumstances build your life around dependency on this man. That is how you got yourself into this mess in the first place.

Also: Do not use money as a reason to stay in an unhappy or abusive situation. It is OK to move in with your parents or a friend, or in an emergency, a shelter, to get out of bad situation and plant seeds for a better life. You are not helpless, and you are not pathetic. Money is just a hurdle that you have to overcome, and you can — and will.

What to do when your husband say's he's done

Should a stay-at-home mom get a job before divorce?

Yes, stay-at-home moms should get a job, period. Some attorneys or ill-informed friends may suggest that by keeping your income low, you will qualify for more child support and/or alimony. This is lousy advice for two reasons:

  1. Child support and alimony are almost never enough to live on, is unreliable (only 40% of child support owed is actually paid), increases conflict with your ex, which makes co-parenting harder, and keeps you small and dependent on that man. 
  2. Increasingly, judges — especially female judges, who themselves are ambitious, professional women — have little sympathy for women who choose not to work. Show the court and your ex and the world that no matter your current financial situation, you are committed to growing your earning potential, working hard and achieving financial independence. 

50/50 custody — who pays child support?

Do stay-at-home moms get alimony in divorce?

Here is the reality of what to expect in divorce:

Alimony is going out of favor with judges, as women gain more access to careers and education. Child support is still common, but rarely, if ever, enough to live off of.

Plus, there is increasing support for equally shared parenting time, and no child support at all, paid to either party. After all, if both parents now have responsibility for the kids equal time, and each have equal time to work and earn, it does not make sense for one parent to pay the other parent’s bills.

The best-case scenario is that you are awarded financial assistance from your husband for a limited time, and are expected to find work and become financially independent of him.

The very best-case scenario is that you both equally share in the responsibility of raising the children. This is hard to do when he is really angry about financially supporting you, and you are really angry that he doesn’t do his share, or that your lifestyle is so compromised.

Many women assume that their kids’ dads are not capable of being good fathers because they were not very involved during the marriage. However, there is a phenomena in which men thrive in fatherhood after divorce, in part because they have to now that the mother is not around to save them, and also because they find their groove and confidence as a parent because they are not being criticized or otherwise default to the mother, who is around and involved more.

Read these rules about how to be a good co-parent. Also, learn more about what science says about equally shared parenting time.

One of the first co-parenting apps, and widely used app, OurFamilyWizard, which features chat, information storage (like pediatrician and teacher contact info, prescriptions, etc.), and financial record-keeping. 30-day free trial, discounts for military families, and a program to provide OurFamilyWizard free to low-income families. Each parent can add unlimited numbers of other people for free, including children, grandparents, step and bonus parents, as well as attorneys.

Try OurFamilyWizard for free for 30 days now >>

Do stay-at-home moms get custody in divorce?

Traditionally, the assumption was that children’s lives should not be disrupted if at all possible in divorce. Four decades of widespread divorce have taught us that by keeping women financially dependent on men in an effort to keep her home with the kids is a recipe for poverty for everyone involved, high tensions and co-parenting conflict — and no one moving on after divorce.

Instead, stay-at-home moms today are not automatically entitled to keep the house, and fathers are far more involved than generations past. There is an increasing movement to award equal, 50-50 parenting time to the parents, since that is what 60 peer-reviewed studies find is what is best for children, and what is fair and equitable to men and women.

How property is divided in divorce

This all may seem to be scary and overwhelming, and I understand why: You assumed your life would be a certain way, that you had an agreement with the division of home and money labor with your husband, and it is now all over.

Many women who were stay-at-home moms fail to demand payment full-time child care because they have a hard time imagining that they will need it — or simply can’t let go of their dream of staying home. Instead, I urge you to hire a nanny or day care full-time, and get to work. You and your ex should split evenly child care expenses since they benefit you each equally — though a family court judge likely will order that this expense be split according to each party’s income.

Plus, recent research found that moms who share parenting time equally are more likely to earn more. Our study of 2,279 single moms found that those who share parenting time 50/50 are 300% more likely to earn at least $100,000 per year.

Plus, if you take custody out of the fight, you are more likely to have an uncontested divorce, which means less money, less time, less stress and better outcomes for your whole family.

How a SAHM can afford to leave a marriage

Here’s the good news: We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity for women and mothers. The economy and feminists before us have created a scenario in which we do not have to be dependent on men. We can work and earn and live in whatever goddamned house we want to afford.

And you will find as you move past your divorce, and date and find love and build a career, that you don’t want to have the kids around 24/7. You will look forward to recharging and relaxing while they are with their dad. That is normal and healthy, because you are a normal, healthy woman.

Even better: Today part-time, consulting and freelance work is not only increasingly available to employees, but also growing in popularity among employers. There is such incredible opportunity all around you!

17 steps to a rich life as a successful single mom

How to get over the broke single moms stereotype and thrive

Ready to leave, but don't have your own income?

  1. Call an attorney. RocketLawyer has an attorney directory where you can ask questions and get quick advice starting at $49. Read our RocketLawyer review.
  2. Educate yourself about the divorce process. This is our Divorce 101 Guide.
  3. Find out where the money is. If you are not earning the money, chances are you do not know how much money your ex makes, where the investment accounts are, or who has the mortgage in their name.
  4. Aim for a low-confict, amicable divorce. The less you fight, the better off everyone will be long-term, especially the kids. Since you are in a financially disadvantageous position, you are more likely to lose if your case goes to court, or you have to fight your ex and a nasty lawyer. Collaborative divorce may be a good option, or you may be able to file your divorce yourselves. 3 Step Divorce is our #1 recommended divorce paper service, with its A+ BBB rating and $50 rebate.
  5. Take steps to be financially indpendent. Open your own bank and credit card accounts. Get a job and strategize for getting a better one. Understand what you can afford to live on comfortably, and how to sell your house.

Stay-at-home mom divorce stories

From Lily: After my son was born, I was a stay-at-home mom for about 10 months. That was a pretty trying time in general, and my credit went down the drain. His dad would say awful things like I could try to leave but I’d never see my son ever again and since I had no resources, and that he had all the power. It took a long time after that to be brave enough to leave. I even had a whole other baby with him before I finally was brave enough to get out.

It’s been 12 years since I’ve been with their dad. We live in a different state, I have a great job, I own my condo (it’s mine and I bought it al by myself!). My credit has bounced back. I feel like I can breathe, and things are good for me and the kids now though.

JS: While my post-secondary education consists of nothing more than a few career-related courses taken post-childbearing, I have worked my butt off to move from a general administrative position to a management position in marketing, and more than doubled my starting salary in 4 1/2 years. I married young with the intention of also having my children young. At 19 I married, had my first child at 22 and my second at 24. Just shy of 25 I was ready to go back into the workforce full time and build a career after working odd jobs and doing book work for my then-husband’s small business.

My ex husband and I separated within a year of me being back in the workforce, and I was able to comfortably support my children with minimal help from my ex. I started taking night classes during my ex’s time with our children. My time with my girls is more precious than ever now, and they are thriving in school and socially.

I recall a conversation with my old-school dad prior to my return to work wherein he told me I was doing my children a disservice by working outside the home. I’m still waiting to see the downside! My girls have a happy, healthy mother who loves her work and thus is happier and more fun outside of work. We have the resources to do more as a family and we enjoy regular trips to the zoo, local amusement park, pool, science center, etc. They also have the influence of a strong female role model who is smart, capable and hard working. If I had remained home from the time my eldest was born until my youngest started school, I’d be 8 years out of the workforce. 

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Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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