Is it common for a stay-at-home mom to divorce these days and stay afloat afterward?
The answer is yes. But the success of this challenging task depends entirely on thorough preparation and readiness to find compromises.
This article will explain the basics of divorce for a stay-at-home mom and provide the essential steps to help survive this stressful time.
The divorce rates among stay-at-home moms have been fluctuating for the past few decades.
According to PewResearch.com, 29% of stay-at-home mothers were divorced in 1993. Then, this number fell to 18% in 1999 and rose to 20% (2 million people) in 2012.
But why do so many women decide to end their marriages while being financially vulnerable?
There are all kinds of divorce stories among stay-at-home moms about why they decided to leave their husbands.
Many of them file for divorce because of physical and emotional abuse or their partner’s infidelity. Other women choose to move forward to a better life because they grew apart from their partners.
While no-fault reasons, such as incompatibility, help keep the divorce process peaceful, some fault-based grounds can lead to a better divorce outcome.
Parents who stay at home and raise children often have some privileges in divorce proceedings. They mainly concern financial support and property division. Let’s look at the most important of them in detail.
A person divorcing a stay-at-home mom would be obliged to pay spousal support if the court finds it necessary. In other words, there is no set rule for husbands to pay alimony.
When deciding the amount of spousal support, a judge usually considers multiple factors, including the length of the marriage and the ability of the parties to meet their financial needs independently.
However, the sacrifice of a career for the good of the family is also an important factor.
The duration and amount of alimony are also determined on a case-by-case basis. Plus, every state has its own laws.
For example, if the couple has lived together for more than ten years in such states as Texas and California, a stay-at-home mom can receive alimony for no longer than five years after the divorce.
You can get spousal support in different forms - as a periodic payment or a lump sum. If you’re afraid that your spouse won’t pay alimony diligently, choose a lump-sum option.
But keep in mind that this payment “will have tax consequences for which you should consult a tax specialist before accepting the lump sum,” advises Linda Distenfield, the author of ‘We The People’s Guide to Divorce.’
If you can’t support your family financially during the divorce proceedings, you can request temporary alimony. You’ll need to file a specific motion to get the order.
There is a common misconception that a stay-at-home mom will always get physical child custody after divorce. Although it was common to leave children with mothers, it’s not the case these days.
Moreover, the courts are inclined to award joint legal and physical custody to both parents to ensure the child’s frequent contact with each of them.
If the spouses plan to live far from each other, for example, in different states, the court will award the primary physical custody to one spouse. Consequently, the other spouse will communicate with the child during scheduled parenting time.
Under family law, the stay-at-home mom’s custody rights are the same as the father’s rights to keep the children. Therefore, even if the husband is the primary breadwinner in the family and has more financial resources to provide for the children, it doesn’t mean that he will be the custodian.
The actual factors that the judge will consider are similar in all states and are based on the child’s best interests. Thus, winning custody for a stay-at-home mom is more likely when most of those factors speak in her favor.
Some of them are (based on California custody laws as an example):
Stay-at-home moms can receive child support if the underage child stays under their custody after the marriage ends. Its amount is calculated based on state guidelines using either the Income shares model or the Percentage of income model.
The first one uses both spouses’ income, and the second uses only the paying parent’s income.
If a stay-at-home mom gets primary child custody in divorce, she doesn’t need to report child support as taxable income.
The other spouse has to pay child support until the children are grown up. If the family has several kids, the payments will reduce after the first child comes of age or becomes emancipated, and so on.
“Who gets to stay in the house?” is usually one of the central questions in every divorce. The answer depends on many factors.
First, the court needs to decide what type of property the family home belongs to. The judge will divide it either equitably or equally if it is marital property, depending on the state laws.
In fact, the house is almost always considered a marital asset. For any property to be separate, it must be bought before the wedding. Moreover, its value should stay the same, and the owner can’t use any family funds to maintain the house or pay the mortgage. Both conditions are improbable.
When it comes to dividing the house, there are several options.
First, you and your spouse can agree on who stays and who moves out and add the terms to a divorce settlement agreement before going to court.
You can also hire a real estate agent to evaluate the house and divide the money. “If you need the house appraised, use a professional who does this work full-time,” says Sam Margulies, divorce coach and mediator. “It will cost you a few hundred dollars, but it is worth the peace of mind,” he adds.
Second, if an amicable divorce is not possible, the judge will resolve your property disputes during the divorce proceedings. For example, they may order to sell the house and divide the money or award the home to one of the parties.
The good news is that, typically, the house after a divorce is awarded to a stay-at-home parent who gets the residential child custody.
There are several vital factors you need to consider before deciding whether you need a divorce attorney. You should definitely get one if your divorce is contentious.
You can do so many things wrong in the divorce process if you don’t get legal assistance. Remember that your financial future depends on it.
How to afford a divorce lawyer as a stay-at-home mom? One solution is to secure your own income. There are plenty of jobs for divorcing or divorced stay-at-home moms to choose from. You only need to figure out what you are good at.
On the other hand, if you agree with your spouse to end the marriage amicably, you might not need full-scope legal representation. Instead, a brief consultation would be enough to make sure your settlement agreement is concluded correctly.
The attorney’s fees, in this case, would be reduced to the minimum.
Preparing for divorce as a stay-at-home mom requires some amount of thought and careful planning. Below are a few essential tips to help you survive this process.
The first piece of advice for a stay-at-home mom contemplating divorce would be to learn as much information as possible concerning the state laws and court rules. You need to understand what you’re entitled to and what to expect when starting a divorce process.
There are tons of informational divorce resources for stay-at-home moms to educate themselves about their rights and prospects:
The things to pay attention to while preparing for divorce are as follows:
Stay-at-home moms often think that since they are in the dark about the financial side of their marriage, it would be complicated to get any information concerning their marital funds. But, in reality, there are legal ways to get access to important documents relevant to divorce.
You can start gathering financial documents by yourself. Start with getting a copy of tax returns from the IRS office or their website. You’ll find a lot of valuable information about bank and investment accounts, property and real estate, etc.
If you have credit card accounts (your own or with your spouse), check the credit report to make sure you know about your debts, marital and separate ones. Get a copy of the report and put it with all other documents and financial records.
If you have money to hire a financial analyst or an attorney, they will explain in detail what you need to collect and where to get it. Otherwise, contact insurance providers, real estate agents, your spouse’s employer, banks, and other primary resources and institutions to get information on specific documents.
After many years of tending to home and children, some women lose control over their current financial situation and have a vague idea about how much money their spouse makes and where that money goes.
Facing divorce in these circumstances can be a little stressful but still manageable. Again, tax returns and tax schedules may be of help here. “One way your spouse could hide assets is by leaving money deposited at the IRS,” says Pam Friedman, a certified divorce financial analyst. “An IRS overpayment may be a marital asset divisible in divorce,” she adds.
If you feel that your spouse is hiding assets, you might need the help of a forensic accountant. They will look for missing money and inconsistencies in your spouse’s financial documentation, which you can obtain during the discovery process.
These specialists also often attend court hearings as witnesses and can present their findings to the judge.
The primary reason that a stay-at-home mom is scared to divorce is financial dependency. In some relationships, the spouse who earns money also gets to make all financial choices. But you shouldn’t feel like a less valuable family member just because you don’t work.
“Although you may not be earning a paycheck, the support and services you provide for the family are incalculable,” says Catherine Alford, the author of ‘Mom’s Got Money: A Millennial Mom’s Guide to Managing Money Like a Boss.’
If you haven’t kept some money for yourself during the marriage, it’s time to become financially independent, at least to provide for basic needs.
The first thing you need to do is to establish a bank account in your name. Then, if you can’t transfer money from your joint account, start using your new credit card and pay the monthly debts on time to earn a good credit score.
If your spouse doesn’t want to negotiate and has a divorce lawyer, you have even more reasons to hire one for yourself. Choose a qualified attorney who has dealt with similar cases and can predict possible complications in your divorce case. Don’t hesitate to interview other lawyers if the one you’ve found does not meet your expectations.
Hiring divorce lawyers can be pretty expensive for a stay-at-home mom with no money, but it is a necessary measure in complicated circumstances, such as child custody cases. According to Investopedia.com, child custody lawyer’s services cost between $1,200 and $4,500.
So, if you need a divorce lawyer’s help but don’t have enough money, you have to find the resources by any means. Try borrowing money from a good friend or a trusted family member or take a part-time job.
“Check with local law schools or bar associations, which may run divorce clinics where students assist low-income clients,” writes Lina Guillen and Violet Woodhouse in their book ‘Divorce & Money: How to Make the Best Financial Decisions During Divorce.’
You might need to hire other divorce professionals, such as financial analysts, forensic accountants, real estate agents, child custody evaluators, family therapists, and other specialists.
Another divorce advice for moms who don’t have a stash of money for a rainy day is to agree with their soon-to-be-ex to negotiate their disputes before going to court.
Resolving conflicts in court is more expensive than using peaceful ways, such as divorce mediation or collaborative divorce. The average cost of contested cases is $9,000-$12,000, according to findlaw.com.
Luckily, the family law of all 50 states has a provision allowing the spouses to end a marriage on no-fault grounds and make their divorce process uncontested. In some states, arbitration is also a relatively affordable way for a stay-at-home mom to leave her husband and reduce legal bills.
Apart from spending less money, an amicable resolution will also help you save time. State and county courts usually have a heavy caseload, so it could take many months to get a final decree.
Divorce for stay-at-home parents comes with many challenges. The toughest ones are to build a solid financial foundation and combat the fear of changes. Many priorities will have to be reconsidered, and some will have to be abandoned altogether.
In any case, the more carefully you plan your strategy and understand your rights, the more successfully you can build your future life.
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