Even though a large percentage of couples live in dual-income households,
we’d be foolish to ignore the fact that some households have stay-at-home
mothers and increasingly,
stay-at-home fathers. In this post, we talk about the stay-at-home moms and dads and the homemakers
out of the workforce for years, the spouses who are headed for a
divorce and thinking to themselves, “Oh my gosh, now I have to find a job.”
If you have been out of the workforce to raise your children, to support
your spouse’s career, or to take care of your home so your spouse
can focus all their time and attention on making money and you’re
headed toward divorce, there’s a very good chance that life as you
know it is about to shift, and it may shift
Even if you expect to receive
spousal support and
child support, you’re likely going to need a better plan. Not a backup plan, but
a Plan A to become financially self-sufficient. Most dependent spouses
need to spring into action and start looking for full-time work, because,
it’s better to be trying to do something than doing nothing at all.
Suppose your spouse agrees off the bat to pay you spousal support. Even
if you do receive spousal support, it’s probably going to be temporary.
In California, spousal support is typically awarded for one-half the length
of the marriage. So, if you were married for eight years, you may receive
it for four years but that is not guaranteed.
Increasingly, judges want spousal support to be a temporary setup until
the dependent spouse becomes financially independent. And, judges like
to see dependent spouses taking steps to make that happen. In fact, if
a dependent spouse languishes for too long and rides the alimony wave,
a judge may terminate the spousal support in an attempt to motivate the
receiving spouse to seek full-time work.
When Spousal Support Isn’t Enough
Even if you receive spousal support, it may not be enough to support yourself.
Depending on your spouse’s income, he or she may not afford to pay
you enough to avoid working. Southern California has a high cost of living.
It’s not far behind Silicon Valley and New York City. When a two-bedroom
apartment in LA County can easily cost between $1,500 and $3,000 a month,
many spouses simply can’t get by with spousal support alone unless
their husband or wife is a multi-millionaire.
What we’re saying is often, spousal support isn’t enough to
live well, so dependent spouses have to find something else. If they have
a college degree, they may go back to what they were doing before. If
they don’t have a degree, they may need to work part-time and go
to a trade or technical school for a year or two, or enroll in a four-year
degree program. Regardless of the options, a return to work mindset is
usually a part of the equation.
When You Miss the Way it Was
If you were a stay-at-home parent or a homemaker for years, you will probably
experience times when you really miss the way things were. You may miss
being there when your kids got home from school. You may miss lazy summers
by the pool and baking cookies in the middle of the day.
You may miss going grocery shopping in the morning when the stores are
empty, keeping a spotless house, and taking the kids to the park or the
library in the middle of the week. And you’ll probably miss being
able to stay home with the kids when they’re sick without worrying
about missing work. It can be sad but there’s a silver lining to
the new normal.
You’ll never want to be in that position you were in when you first
realized your marriage was over. “I’m out of work and I haven’t
had a job in years, what am I going to do?” Once you become financially
independent, you’ll never want to feel that way again: helpless,
dependent on your spouse, and unsure of your future.
Even if you can count on some spousal support, you could lose your desire
to be dependent on your spouse. You may get to the point where you don’t
want to take their money. If you have kids together, you’ll be tied
forever, at least until they’re eighteen, but probably much longer,
but you may find yourself wanting to cut the
financial tie or make it as thin as possible. When you start making your own way,
you’ll feel empowered.
Our Top Advice for Dependent Spouses
What’s our top advice to dependent spouses who are getting a divorce?
Figure out how you can become financially independent sooner rather than
later and then stay that way. This is extremely important and probably
the most challenging for stay-at-home moms who don’t have college
degrees or much work experience.
Sometimes, women have to be creative. They have to move back in with their
parents while they go to a technical school and earn a certificate. Or,
they have to move into a cheaper apartment rather than a single-family
home so they can use their spousal support as a safety net as they return
to the workforce. Just remember that becoming financially independent
does not happen overnight.
Depending on your education, work experience and network, it could take
six to twelve months. If you have to go back to work and enroll in school,
it could be several years before you reach your true earning potential.
Even if you do get child support and spousal support, you still need to
be realistic about your living expenses. There is no guarantee that your
spouse will pay the payments or won’t fall behind, so you have to
rely on yourself. You want to think, “How am I going to survive
if I don’t get paid?” and hope for the best but plan for the worst.
We’ve found that our clients tend to experience a huge psychological
boost from becoming financially self-sufficient. Our clients who’ve
figured it out are optimistic about their future. This comes from knowing
that they can take care of themselves and take control of their own destiny.
They don’t need to rely on their ex to live comfortably. They can
move forward and move on.
Tips for Negotiating a Divorce Settlement