Divorce hurdles for stay-at-home moms

Here’s what stay-at-home moms should know about divorce, from the factors to consider to potential hurdles.

What's Inside

What's Inside

For stay-at-home moms, divorce may be especially distressing. Devoting yourself to the work of caring for your household and family can heighten concerns associated with ending your marriage. You may wonder: 

  • How this may impact your kids
  • Where you’ll live
  • How you’ll make enough money to support yourself and your children
  • How you’ll find time to work and care for your children
  • Who will care for your children while you work or train for employment

But the divorce process doesn’t have to be scary. You may be able to ease many of these worries by preparing yourself before you file or as soon as your spouse tells you about their intentions to dissolve the marriage. Consult the guide below to better understand how to assert your rights as a stay-at-home mom in divorce court. 

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How to prepare for divorce as a stay-at-home mom

If you’re a stay-at-home mom who’s scared to divorce, there are several steps you may take to increase the likelihood that you’ll receive a fair share of the marital estate, parental rights you agree with and post-divorce financial support for you and your children.

1. Determine where to file for divorce

You can only initiate or maintain a divorce case in the state or county that has jurisdiction. Typically, a court has jurisdiction in a divorce case if either spouse or a minor child that they share has lived in the state or county for several months. However, this can vary state by state.

Depending on your circumstances, jurisdiction rules could mean there are multiple places where you could file for divorce. Knowing all the states and counties where you may initiate a divorce is crucial because divorce laws vary from state to state. This could impact the terms of your divorce, such as how much property or alimony you receive.

Additionally, if your spouse files for divorce in a county far from you, you could rack up travel expenses and waste time commuting to and from court. However, if your divorce begins in an inconvenient county, you might be able to request a change of venue from the court.

2. Review the divorce laws in your state

In general, a divorce court makes decisions about the following in a divorce decree

  • What property and debts of the couple are separate and what property and debts are marital
  • How to divide marital property and debts
  • Each spouse’s entitlement to spousal maintenance
  • Each spouse’s obligation to pay child support or right to receive child support
  • Each spouse’s rights to parenting time and child custody

Knowing how the courts in your jurisdiction decide these matters may help you determine what evidence to gather to safeguard your interests.

For example, many divorce courts divide only marital property between divorcing spouses and allow each spouse to keep their separate property. However, the definition of marital and separate property can differ from state to state.

Or consider alimony (also called spousal support or spousal maintenance). In many cases, a spouse must request alimony from the court and prove that their circumstances make these payments necessary. The length of time alimony may last can also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

3. Figure out your child custody needs

When you’re a stay-at-home mom in a divorce, child custody is often a big concern. Typically, state courts seek to give both parents as much parenting time and as many custody rights as possible or reasonable. So you’ll likely have to split parenting responsibilities and time with your spouse and change the way that you run your household as a parent. 

If you need or plan to seek employment after your divorce, understanding your scheduling and the time you require away from your child for job searching, engaging in training or working may be crucial. And if your child has specific needs, understanding and listing those needs in detail may help you argue for custody orders that protect your rights and your child’s well-being.

As soon as you know a divorce is coming, you might want to consider the following actions to help you present the best case in your favor:

  • Engage in job searches and keep copies of job postings that are plausible for you
  • Calculate your household’s financial needs and research the job market to determine what positions could bring in necessary income for you and your child
  • Research the cost and time commitment for schooling or training you might need to start a new job
  • Speak with an employment professional about job prospects for you
  • Collect your child’s medical, school and extracurricular records
  • List the attachments your child has made to their community, school and family in the area
  • Research the cost of childcare in your area
  • Research the cost of adequate housing for you and your child
  • List the parenting duties you and your spouse fulfill from day to day
  • Outline your spouse’s work obligations and other responsibilities outside of the home

This information and information about your financial needs may help prove to the court that giving you primary physical custody is in the best interests of your child. It may also be helpful if you seek to keep the family home, because it can help show the benefits of your child staying in the home and how you plan to afford to maintain the home.

4. Review your finances and your spouse’s finances

Identifying separate property and marital property in a divorce can be a difficult task, but doing so may be vital to receiving a fair portion of these assets. Understanding your financial needs and your spouse’s financial needs may also be crucial.

You may be unaware of separate property that could count against you when a divorce court distributes assets. Or you might be unaware of property your spouse owns that should be part of your divorce award. To guard yourself against this and properly present your financial needs, you might want to promptly gather and list documentation of the following:

  • Bank records 
  • Investment records
  • Retirement documents
  • Insurance paperwork
  • Property titles and leases 
  • Trust documents 
  • Wage statements
  • Employment records
  • Education records
  • Medical records
  • Bills
  • Invoices
  • Debt paperwork

If you are concerned about hidden assets or if you’re struggling to distinguish marital and separate property, a forensic accountant may be a useful resource. 

5. Consider temporary orders

Divorce is rarely a quick process, and life’s demands tend to keep coming amid proceedings. Once you or your spouse files for divorce, you may be able to request temporary orders to help you and your child stay afloat until you get a final decree. 

These orders (also called pendente lite orders) might cover the following:

  • Preventing a spouse from taking out loans on property
  • Child custody
  • Preventing the sale or transfer of marital property
  • Payment of insurance premiums
  • Spousal support
  • Payment of marital debts
  • Parenting time
  • Use of marital property (including the home or car)
  • Payment of attorney fees
  • Preventing an abusive spouse from contacting you or your child

To obtain a temporary order, you may have to file a motion with the court that identifies all types of relief you’re seeking and explains why the relief should be granted. Once you make your request, the court might require you to attend mediation or a hearing with your spouse to determine your rights to temporary support or custody. Typically, temporary orders last until your divorce is final. 

How an attorney may help 

When you’re looking for divorce advice for a stay-at-home mom, speaking to an attorney may be beneficial. An experienced divorce lawyer may: 

  • Identify specific issues you might face in court
  • Help you gather the evidence that might be necessary to prove your case
  • Connect you with professionals who may properly review your circumstances and testify on your behalf
  • Represent you during divorce mediation
  • Present your case in front of a judge in court

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Frequently asked questions

How can a stay-at-home mom keep the house in a divorce?

In some cases, a divorcing stay-at-home parent may keep the marital home if they show they should be their child’s primary caretaker and that it’s in the best interests of their child to stay in the marital home.

Can a stay-at-home mom get alimony?

Yes. In many cases, stay-at-home parents who can prove their financial needs and their contributions to the marriage may receive alimony. Two of the key factors the court typically considers in deciding whether to award alimony are the receiving spouse’s need and the paying spouse’s ability to pay.

Will I have to get a job if I get divorced?

Not necessarily. Depending on your circumstances (such as receiving primary custody of a child with special needs, having a disability that prevents work or making significant contributions during the marriage), you might be awarded enough marital property and spousal support to support yourself. However, if you’re able to work, the court will take your potential earnings into account when determining how much spousal support you should receive.

How will I pay my bills while the divorce is pending?

If you need help paying bills and other expenses, you may ask the court for temporary orders (called pendente lite orders) that require your spouse to pay you maintenance while your divorce is pending.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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