Stay at home moms who divorce go through the same stress and anxiety any other parent goes through in this very difficult chapter of any person's life, but with one exception.
Many stay at home moms who divorce have been out of the work force for many years, especially in California long term marriages. This causes a few complicating factors in the divorce case because the stay at home mom becomes financially dependent on the husband (at least in the beginning of the case) and can face emotional and financial challenges.
In this article, we are going to discuss one topic of challenge for stay at home moms who divorce - whether they should get a job during the divorce. It's a question that comes up because mothers are trying to balance many factors, including the two most important being their ability to care for their children and the impact on their support. It is these two factors we will focus on.
Stay at Home Moms Divorce Challenge - How to Balance Working and Caring for the Children
Raising children, especially multiple children, is hard work and holding down a job when a parent has been out of the work force for a lengthy period of time is not easy.
Today's economy has more overqualified people applying for lower level positions than anytime in recent history.
When you consider that a college degree, by itself, is not even enough to guarantee a position in the work force (certainly not in the field of study if it is a highly competitive field), what are the odds a stay at home mom going through a divorce can land a position and earn money while she cares for the children?
Much depends on the circumstances of the parents' life during the marriage. Let's review what factors the family Court will take into consideration…
The number and ages of children involved
The more children involved and the younger they are, the more challenging it will be to find a job, sustain it and still care for the kids. After all, what is the point of getting a minimum wage job just to pay that earnings to a day care provider?
This issue typically comes up with parents in their 30's and 40's, whereby the father is the bread-winner and both parents have decided the mother will stay home and care for the children. At the time the decision was made, both parents probably thought it was in the children's best interest. When divorce happens, there is a bit of revisionist history that plays into the decision-making process.
What both fathers and stay at home moms who divorce must understand is the court will also take into consideration the children's needs when evaluating whether or not the stay at home mom should stop staying at home and get a job. These situations are not looked at in a vacuum.
California's Mandate to Equally Support the Children
California Family Code section 3900 states that both parents have a duty to support their children in the manner suitable to the child's circumstances. The word "both" is critical here.
Just because a stay at home mom did not work during the marriage does not mean she can stay at home during the divorce or thereafter.
The "child's circumstances" include all of the issues that relate to the child's health, safety, education and welfare. A stay at home mom going through a divorce who cares for several young children, one or more of which have learning or other disabilities is going to be treated differently than a stay at home mom who has healthy teenagers.
The skill-set and job qualifications of the stay at home mom
Stay at Home Moms Divorce and Short Term Marriages
Marriages of a short duration (defined generally by the California Family Code as a marriage under 10 years) are easier to deal with because spousal support typically will not last for longer than half the duration of the marriage. Since a stay at home mom's income may affect not just child support but also spousal support, the mother has to at some point get back in the work force. If an opportunity presents itself early on, a stay at home mom going through a divorce may want to consider that opportunity earlier, rather than later.
Stay at Home Moms Divorce and Long Term Marriages
Long term marriages (marriages of 10 years or more) do make the issue more complicated but, again, it becomes a matter of degree. There is a big difference between an 11 year marriage and a 31 year marriage, not just in the 20 additional years but the fact a stay at home mom and wife may not have worked for 3 decades and may have a difficult time re-entering the work force.
California Law's Mandate to Become Self Sustaining
It is called a "Gavron Warning". It is based on Family Code section 4330(b). It states:
When making an order for spousal support, the court may advise the recipient of support that he or she should make reasonable efforts to assist in providing for his or her support needs, taking into account the particular circumstances considered by the court pursuant to Section 4320, unless, in the case of a marriage of long duration as provided in Section 4336, the court decides the warning is inadvisable.
It's an important code section and one that gets to the heart of the stay at home divorce and job issue.
This "warning" as many call it has become so common that it is contained on the judicial council judgment form for every judgment. That is important because that means the legislature believes every spouse and parent needs to know of its existence and application.
Does this warning mean a stay at home mom who receives spousal support needs to go out and get a job right now? Of course not. The Court still looks at the circumstances. However, "reasonable efforts to assist in providing for his or her support needs" means what it says. Either spouse who refuses to look for work and has both the opportunity and ability is playing with fire, if the other spouse makes an issue out of the lack of reasonable efforts.
Stay at Home Mom Divorce Answer to the Question - Should You Get a Job?
If you have the opportunity and ability to earn income and doing so will not have a significant impact on your care of the children (your children are healthy and do not have any serious special needs), the short answer is yes. California law requires both parents to support their children.
Will the income from employment affect child and spousal support? Probably. There are a lot of factors at play though and there is no article that can be written to address all of them. The advice of an experienced divorce lawyer is necessary.
The impact on support may be minimal or significant but the question a stay at home mom also has to ask herself is whether her "net", in her pocket with her net income + her support (even if it is reduced) will be more than just support, alone.
While the numbers may vary, I will tell you that in most circumstances, the answer is yes and therefore, it makes little sense for a stay at home mom (whose day-to-day care of the children will not be significantly affected) to turn down a reasonable employment opportunity.
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