Divorce and the Stay-at-Home Parent

Little girl sitting on father's lap while he is working on laptop and writing notes at home concept

Divorce can be an overwhelming experience, both emotionally and economically. This can be especially true if you’re a stay-at-home mother or father. If you were out of the workforce during your marriage, you might be worried about the financial challenges you will face once your marriage has ended. There are several crucial things stay-at-home parents should consider as they navigate the legal process associated with divorce.

What Should a Stay at Home Mom or Dad Do in Anticipation of Divorce?

It’s not uncommon for one spouse to stay at home to raise the children while supporting the other’s career. However, there are specific financial issues that must be carefully addressed in these types of divorce cases. Stay-at-home parents can start to prepare for the divorce process by doing the following:

  • Considering the options for divorce — Although a litigated divorce can be lengthy and expensive, there are several alternatives you might consider which can help keep costs and contentiousness at a minimum. Mediation, uncontested divorce, and collaborative divorce are three ways to end your marriage amicably and cost-effectively, without the need for a trial.
  • Understanding the family’s finances — Divorce involves a significant amount of paperwork and financial documentation. A stay-at-home parent will need to understand the family’s financial situation and budget to know what the post-divorce economic situation will look like.
  • Setting up a new budget — After divorce, the total amount of income for your household may be dramatically reduced. You should look at your monthly bills and see where you can cut back on expenses.
  • Being prepared to move — Who gets to live in the family home is typically one of the most contentious issues in divorce. However, it may not always be financially feasible for one of the spouses to stay in the residence. In such cases, both parties may need to be prepared to downsize.

In addition to preparing for divorce legally and financially, it’s also essential to be emotionally prepared. Once you realize that your marriage is over, you will likely experience many complex emotions such as denial, anger, and depression. It’s crucial to ensure you have a reliable support network during this difficult time.

Are Stay at Home Parents Entitled to Alimony in Pennsylvania?

Alimony is not automatic in Pennsylvania — even for a stay-at-home mom or dad. But it may be awarded at the judge’s discretion in cases where one spouse earned substantially more than the other spouse and the court deems it to be “necessary.” Stay-at-home parents often receive spousal support temporarily while they seek the education or vocational training they need to become self-supporting.

In deciding whether alimony should be awarded, Pennsylvania courts consider the duration of the marriage, the living standards of the parties, and employment opportunities available to the lower-earning spouse. In addition, a judge will look at the extent to which a supported spouse contributed to the other obtaining a degree or professional license.

In some cases, a stay-at-home mom or dad might not receive any alimony. For example, if they have made no efforts at becoming financially independent and have had the opportunity to do so, a judge may decide they should not be entitled to support. Alimony might also not be available if the higher-earning spouse is not financially able to provide support, or in cases where the stay-at-home spouse has a substantial amount of non-marital assets. Additionally, stay-at-home parents may not be eligible for alimony if the other spouse will have child custody and provide for all their daily needs.

Do Stay at Home Moms and Dads Have Automatic Custody Rights?

Stay-at-home mothers and fathers have the same legal rights as parents who work outside the home — including child custody rights. A parent who stayed home to raise their children may be entitled to custody of their children if it is in their best interests. Significantly, Pennsylvania law does not favor one parent over the other. Rather, a judge will evaluate the facts and circumstances in each case to decide the outcome.

Parents are free to enter into whatever custody arrangement works for them and their children. However, if they cannot reach an agreement, the court must decide the matter taking all relevant factors into consideration. Some of these factors include the following:

  • Which party is more likely to encourage frequent contact between the child and their other parent
  • The parental duties performed by each party
  • The child’s need for stability
  • Which parent is more likely to maintain a nurturing relationship with the child and is able to provide for their emotional needs
  • Which parent is more likely to attend to the child’s daily physical, emotional, developmental, and other needs
  • How close the parties live to each other

The above are only a few of the 16 factors that are considered under Pennsylvania law when a judge determines child custody. Each factor is given equal weight, except for the factors that concern the child’s safety and welfare — which are first and foremost.

Contact an Experienced Pennsylvania Divorce and Family Law Attorney

Divorce isn’t easy — and it can be even more stressful if you were a stay-at-home parent. If you supported your spouse’s career and remained home to raise the children, it’s vital to understand your rights in the event of divorce. At Berman & Associates, we are committed to providing compassionate counsel and reliable representation to stay-at-home moms and dads for divorce and family law matters in Pennsylvania. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at our Media office to learn how we can help.