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Spousal support considerations for stay-at-home parents

Being a parent has never been easy. But it seems like one parenting decision has only become more agonizing over time: Should you work outside the home or be a stay-at-home parent? The good news is that both women and men are given the option these days, and the gender-related stigma surrounding SAH parenting has largely disappeared.

Still, the decision is a difficult one. Can you live on a single income? Can you afford childcare if both parents work? Will you be bored out of your mind if you leave your job? You get the idea. For all this uncertainty around SAH parenting, one thing is clear: If a couple is divorcing and one spouse has been a SAH parent, this will likely need to be reflected in a spousal support award.

Let's say that a husband and wife each work jobs with similar incomes. When the kids come along, the couple decides that they can afford life on a single income, and the wife volunteers to leave her job and stay at home with the kids.

Ten years later, the couple gets divorced. How should stay-at-home status affect the divorce settlement? Some might argue that the husband's role as the sole "breadwinner" means that he has contributed more and therefore should not need to pay spousal support.

But is this a reasonable argument? It's important to remember that in this scenario, the wife left a job and career path that was comparable to her husband's. In doing so, she had to forego more than just an income. She lost many years of being in the workforce and the benefits that come with it. These include:

  • Professional contacts
  • Up-to-date skills and experience
  • Opportunities for promotion
  • A résumé that shows a strong work history and steady employment
  • Raises in salary based on seniority and experience

In short, a SAH parent cannot simply pick up where they left off if they get divorced and need to go back to work. As such, they may not be able to command the same pay they used to enjoy. Moreover, a divorce settlement should reflect the incredibly important contributions made by the stay-at-home parent (a job which is more stressful than office work in many ways).

There are many factors California courts consider when awarding spousal support, including the contributions and needs of a SAH parent. If you are getting divorced and are worried about your financial future as a former stay-at-home parent, please discuss your concerns with an experienced family law attorney.

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