Can You Afford A Stay-At-Home Ex?


A blog post attempting to calculate a dollar figure for the value of a stay-at-home mom recently went viral when a father determined that “he cannot afford his wife.”

By looking up the average cost of services such as daycare, cleaning, shopping, laundry, etc., Steven Nelms determined that the overall “salary” of his wife should be in the range of $73,000 a year, which is far out of the price range for a working-class person.

The exercise was intended to give a deeper appreciation for everything his wife does for their family, and it has received mixed criticism.

The decision for how your family is structured clearly varies based on what is best for each individual situation — there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

However, it is important for anyone considering a stay-at-home-parent scenario to understand how this sort of arrangement impacts all aspects of their lives and future, including what happens in the event of divorce.

The stay-at-home parent is still prevalent

While there has been an obvious decrease in the number of stay-at-home mothers over the past several decades, it is still a fairly common family structure in the modern era with nearly 30 percent of mothers not a part of the workforce.

Meanwhile, the number of stay-at-home fathers has nearly doubled since 1989 and many are staying home specifically to take care of their children.

The classic setup of having the husband provide for the family financially while the wife stays home to raise the children may not be quite as common as it was 50 years ago, but having a parent forgo work to rear children is still a valid and widespread option.

The reasons for a stay-at-home parent vary — some are out of work, others are dealing with disability and many find it economical to avoid astronomically high childcare costs.

However, do not assume because the scenario is beneficial at the time that it will always be the case for your family.

Stay-at-home parents and divorce

Just as the working spouse supports the family financially during their marriage, so will it likely be after divorce.

Specific laws vary by state, but most allow for some form of alimony and almost all utilize a “best-interests-of-the-child” analysis when determining custody.

Although alimony is not necessarily a given after divorce, you can pretty safely assume it will be requested by the stay-at-home spouse if they have been out of work for a significant period of time.

Factors for an alimony award typically include length of marriage, difference in income, role during the marriage, etc.

There is a good chance the judge will find an award of maintenance appropriate if your spouse stayed home to raise the children – particularly in a longer marriage.

When it comes to custody, each state will have a list of factors they used to determine the best arrangement for the child based on the judgement of the court.

A common element among these guidelines includes “the parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.”

Clearly, this gives a leg up for the stay-at-home parent to obtain primary custody post-divorce since they were most likely the primary caretaker of the child during the marriage.

This would also entitle them to child support, as the non-primary parent is almost always assigned some sort of support obligation.

Additionally, the working spouse may be required by the court to pay the attorney fees on the non-working parent — a double-whammy for what is often the most expensive aspect of the divorce.

Cordell & Cordell understands the concerns men face during divorce.

Can you afford a stay-at-home ex?

The claim made by Steven Nelms that he cannot afford to pay for all the services provided by his stay-at-home wife are valid, as paying for luxury services is obviously going to have a high markup.

And although the decision to have a stay-at-home parent is often a luxury in itself, the implications for what it could mean during a potential future divorce are likely a lot more expensive than most people realize.

Let’s take Steven for example:

If his wife decides she no longer wants to be married and files for divorce 10 years down the line, he may be changing his tune regarding the cost/benefits of agreeing to a one-working-spouse household.

She would likely get primary custody of their 12-year-old, saddling Steven with child support payments for at least the next 6 years. Since his wife was out of work so long, she would likely be entitled to alimony for at least a couple years (and in some states, possibly permanently) while she gains the education or experience to be a contributing member of the workforce.

Not only would Steven most likely be relegated to the position of weekend dad, he could realistically be saddled with both an alimony and child support obligation each month for years to come. This would not only put financial strain on Steven, but his ex would likely be struggling to get by as well.

No one likes to think that they might eventually wind up with a broken marriage, but the fact is that around 50 percent of people who marry will end up going through divorce someday and pretty much no one says their vows assuming they will become a statistic.

When it comes to divorce, there are no winners.

However, a divorce will hit households with a stay-at-home spouse particularly hard on both sides: The breadwinner ends up continuing to support the family that now consists of essentially doubled living expenses, and the stay-at-home parent continues to rely on their ex to get by as they hopefully become self-sufficient.

This is an important decision for any family to make, so be sure to consider the full range of consequences — including the potential reality of divorce — before agreeing to such an arrangement.

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