Video: Courts shut down SAHMs



I chat with divorce lawyer Morghan Richardson, reports that family court lawyers are increasingly ordering women wanting to be stay-at-home moms to get back to work. The Mommy Wars always come to a, “Let’s respect each others’ decisions!” truce. But do divorcing mothers really have a choice to stay at home?

Morghan Richardson is a family and divorce attorney and mediator in New York City.  She juggles her Queens-based law practice with her other job as the single mom of two preschool-aged boys, Hayden and Ozzie. Her firm is Richardson Legal, PLLC. 

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10 thoughts on “Video: Courts shut down SAHMs

  1. This trend infuriates me. As far as the courts as concerned, Mom and Dad are potential wage earners. In Family Court today, there is little to no consideration of the parents’ role as nurturer to their children, and I think that is a huge oversight that is damaging to families.

    Consider the language. Morghan said, “You can’t just sit at home anymore,” as if that is an apt description of what an at-home parent does.

    Like you, I fully agree that it is possible to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids if mom works, if dad works, if both parents work. But I adamantly believe that time with kids is essential, and a multitude of research backs up the importance of kids having close connections with constant caregivers, particularly in the early years. I’m afraid for what happens to our society when courts order parents out of the home — essentially, in some cases, ordering their kids into what may well be low-quality childcare. There’s a long-term cost to that too.

    A better choice, I think, would be for courts to carefully consider family’s situations, to realize that kids need nurturing too, not just financial support, and to help families create settlements that allow that at-home spouse to ease into the workplace while both parents step up their child nurturing responsibilities.

    1. Jennifer –

      The best solution is that people with children should place the needs of those children first and try to mediate their divorce or separation. There is a world of creative options open to people who go to mediation that a court cannot order. The burden is on the couple then to recognize the nurturing and financial issues.

      Unfortunately, when a couple asks for court intervention, the court is going to follow the laws available. A court isn’t going to look at underlying priorities of that family. Those two people are now asking us as a society to bear the cost of solving their dispute – these are public resources (the judge, the courthouse, the staff, the clerks, the court reporter etc.). Those resources are overloaded with people wanting to have their disputes resolved. Sadly, the couple has taken any amount of control they had in resolving their dispute and placed it in the hands of a judge and lawyers. The outcome is that a SAHM may find herself being told she needs to get a “real job.” (And this isn’t me in anyway judging whether the SAHM has been “working” at home. I have two kids. I don’t sit down much.)

      On a separate note, SAHMs would benefit best from prenups (and a postnup or antenup which you can have drawn up after the marriage once you have decided that SAHM is best for your family). I say this because regardless of the reason that mom stayed home with the children, in a highly contested case, I generally hear dad arguing that he never wanted her to stay home in the first place (and I don’t think I need to go into how ugly that argument can get).

      1. Morghan, you are absolutely right. If the couple is amicable and has the best interest of the child than mediating is a better solution. However, that is not a reality for a lot of couples. My ex and I have had ongoing disputes since we got divorced in 2008. I have had to resort to keeping my attorney on retainer. The reason we can’t communicate is typically because he just plain disappears and doesn’t show up to court dates. To avoid court, I have asked him to select a date to mediate on some issues since January and he has yet to choose one. If you co-parent with a non-communicator you are relegated to having to hold him accountable by using the letter of the law.

        As far as Jennifer’s statement that your child will be in low cost childcare due to mother not being at home is a false assumption. I work and I prefer to work. My children are all well adjusted and preschool and daycare have helped them be at the top of their classes and well advanced for their grade levels. Of course, I miss my time with them for events etc and will now transition to work from home and freelance. My choice, but it will be worth it.

  2. As a very recently divorced SAHM (about to start a one year grad program to kickstart a new career), I do agree that the divorced mom should expect to have to go back to work. The reality is that their whole life/future has changed, and they need to accept it. They can’t expect their ex-husband to support them indefinitely. A single mom needs to develop her own new household. She should be able to take care of herself and share the monetary responsibilities for her children.

    However, I do believe that the SAHM should have some spousal support to help her to get back on her feet, because, like you pointed out, she is the one that has sacrificed earning potential and probably taken some steps back in her career by stepping out of the workforce. And that was a joint decision made at the time by husband and wife/father and mother with the expectation that they would be together for life. Having that financial support also allows her the opportunity to really think and plan a long term career solution so she does not have to settle for whatever she can get immediately, at least not for the long term. Also, the children are going through a lot of upheaval in the divorce and transitioning from a SAHM to a working mom is another big change so anything that can help that transition go smoother is also important.

    I do also think going back to work has other intangible benefits such as a new/better social life as well as increased independence, pride, confidence, etc. It’s not just about the money.

    1. Hi Erica, I agree with everything you wrote. Ideally, both parents agree that child rearing and all its financial and time expenses are the responsibility of both parents, and that there is at least a transition from the family’s old economic model to the new one that supports two households. But the bottom line is that there ARE now two households, and the situation is far different than the nuclear family model which had its own rules, goals and dreams. A divorce means new dreams — and a new financial model, too.

  3. Obvious solution no one will bring up, off the men’s issues websites: that’s going back to the traditional child custody result (pre-1900 or so), and that’s having any nongestating children go with the dad in the event of divorce. Avoids all this trouble mentioned on this thread, and lowers the divorce rate, too.

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