What happens financially, if you find your marriage is breaking down and you're not the the primary bread winner? This is a question many people find themselves asking. Last year there were approximately five million stay-at-home mothers in the United States. Plus it seems that the numbers of stay-at-home fathers are on the rise. The Census Bureau estimates the the number at 159,000, which has tripled over the last decade. Some say that's a gross underestimation, because it fails to account for nearly 2 million more fathers who are now primary caregivers due to the recession as well as fathers who only work part-time so they can still care for their children.
Whatever the exact numbers, stay-at-home parents are vulnerable to substantial financial risk during divorce. There have even been reports that unemployed men face a greater danger of being left by their wives, particularly working wives. And though a wife's employment status had no bearing on risk, neither does the law provide stay-at-home parents sufficient protections either, especially under our unilateral divorce laws.
In practical terms, if the breadwinner leaves, the first risk faced is lack of immediate access to funds. Even if you have a joint bank account, your spouse might decide to open a new one in which to deposit paychecks. Joint stock or savings accounts may require joint approval for withdrawals. This could leave stay-at-home parents hostage for money until they are able to secure a temporary order of support as well as funds with which to defend themselves.
New York recently recognized the inherent unfairness of this financial disparity when it came to the ability to defend oneself in a lawsuit for divorce. It amended its domestic relations laws to establish a rebuttable presumption that the monied spouse be required to pay for the non-monied spouse's attorney and experts during the pendency of litigation. In other states, stay-at-home spouses without independent means are generally subject to the proper exercise of discretion by the judicial system to award them sufficient funds both to defend themselves and for support.
The financial risk stay-at-home parents face when it comes to spousal support can be even more troubling. When no-fault was instituted, permanent spousal support awarded to spouses who had given up their careers to become stay-at-home parents began to fall out of favor, permanent spousal support being deemed incompatible with the clean break idea behind no-fault. Unless you're the victim of spousal abuse or have been married ten years or longer, or have physical or mental disabilities. Even then it is limited in amount and cannot exceed three years. Then there's all the issues of child custody and child support to be worked out.
When you start looking at all these factors it can seem overwhelming. This is why you should consult with an experienced Family Law Attorney, sooner rather than later if you find yourself in a situation where there might be a divorce on the horizon. This will help make sure that you and your family are protected and you can weather the financial storm that can often accompany divorce proceedings. I offer a free initial consultation where you can get your questions answered.