Should a Stay-at-Home Parent During the Marriage Work After the Divorce?

Many stay-at-home parents, particularly those who did not initiate the divorce, see having to go to work as one more unwanted change in their lives. They have committed to caring for the family, which has value. They prefer to work principally in the home in the future. Many such clients are unhappy when the lawyer tells them this is not realistic. Why?

  1. It depends on finances. Many families are just able to pay all the family expenses of one household. After the divorce, there will be two households. Few families have the resources to pay the maintenance of both with one income.
  2. It is also a question of being vulnerable. I like my clients to start their new life being as self-sufficient as possible. The reason is that even if your spouse can afford to pay you spousal support after the divorce and that spousal support with child support is sufficient to meet your new household expenses, these payments will not continue forever.
    1. Your spouse might become disabled. If she stops earning the salary she made during the marriage and before the divorce, she will probably not have to continue paying support at the previous levels.
    2. Your spouse could lose his job and have difficulty finding another that pays at the level he earned during the marriage. His spousal support obligation could be reduced.
    3. Increasingly spousal support is paid for a limited time period, unless your marriage has been a very long one, say in excess of 28 years in Michigan. Once the time period is up, you will have to be in a position to replace the support from other sources.
    4. Your spouse may be a very reluctant payor. She may leave the area, be hard to find and not keep up with payments. You may have to provide income to meet your household expenses.
    5. Some state legislatures are considering severely limiting the availability of spousal support, particularly, permanent spousal support. The Florida governor vetoed such legislation recently because the act would have eliminated permanent or life-time spousal support retroactively. Such legislation is being supported by the "second wives club," an organization of women who wish to marry or are marrying formerly married men who are obligated to pay support and men who evidently do not wish to pay long-term support. Many other state legislatures are considering such legislation. Massachusetts has passed such a bill

In short, spouses who receive long-term spousal support cannot count on it continuing indefinitely. If your spouse and you have sufficient assets, besides your spouse's income, to sustain you for the rest of your life, without spousal support being paid to you, then you can stake your future on your divorce award. However, if you must rely in part on your spouse's future income to meet your obligations, you should find an added means of supporting yourself. We recommend that you explore employment options to provide yourself with needed security.