Regardless of whether you're the spouse driving the decision or are on the receiving end of such shocking news, a stay at home moms divorce - and the end of a marriage, can be utterly terrifying.
The worries pour in and flood your mind filling you with anxiety. You lose sleep thinking about:
Will I be able to afford to stay in the marital home?
How will I pay off those credit cards?
How will I be able to put my kids through college?
How will I save for my retirement?
Will I receive enough child support and alimony (spousal support / maintenance)?
Will I have to get a job and join the workforce? If so, how will I do it?
How will I support myself and my children after the divorce is finalized?
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
In a stay at home mom divorce, all of this boils down to fear. And money.
And it makes perfect sense given you don't currently have full-time employment and don't earn an income and you haven't had a career or been in the workforce since the kids were born.
And you may not even have visibility into the household finances.
Think You Should “Lawyer Up?”
You might be thinking you have no choice but to hire a divorce lawyer to make sure you and the kids are protected and get what you're entitled to.
After all, a lawyer will fight for you and get you the best settlement they possibly can. They’ll do whatever it takes in your divorce case, for as long as it takes and for whatever it costs.
But what you probably don’t realize is that hiring a lawyer for your divorce proceedings may not result in the settlement you expected at all. In fact, it might be the most catastrophic mistake you can make in your life because you could wind up getting much less than you thought or had hoped for.
How could that be?
There's a Finite Pool of Income.
The pie is only so big and the amount of money available to you and your husband to divide during your divorce proceedings is limited to what he earns and what you have in the bank.
Some women think divorce creates income but in reality, it only creates expense.
Each spouse will now need:
2 separate places to live and 2 separate mortgages or rents;
2 sets of utilities;
2 separate car insurance plans;
2 separate cable TV plans;
2 separate cell phone plans…
All of this can really add up.
So it’s critically important as a stay-at-home mom that you preserve as much of the pool of money as you can for life after your divorce. Instead of throwing it away during the divorce process.
Doing so will provide you with the financial cushion you'll undoubtedly need to recover from the divorce, get back on your feet, and start your new life.
There Are No Guaranteed Outcomes in a Lawyer-Driven Divorce.
For example, one of the issues you’ll need to resolve is your parenting plan / parenting time sharing arrangement.
But there are no laws on how to be a good parent. So if you hire a divorce attorney and your husband hires one, too, you may be letting the future of your children be determined by two total strangers.
Do they really know what's best for your kids?
No! Only your children's parent knows what's best for them!
So do you really want to leave the decision of child custody or who will raise your children to family law attorneys or a judge in the courts?
And do you want to risk having your children asked to testify in court to tell the judge where they'd like to live?
But there’s so much more involved when coming to a child support agreement than simply calculating a support amount. And every state in the US has a different formula.
To make matters worse, there are many factors that can come into play. And a lot is left out.
Only you know exactly what it costs to raise your kids because as a stay at home mom, you're the one in the marriage doing the clothes shopping, writing the checks to the school, and paying for the dance and karate lessons.
But if you work with attorneys, all they'll do is take out their software program, calculate the amount and that's that.
But what if it's not enough?
For example, if your children are teenagers.
Something tells me your 15-year-old son's grocery bill is much higher than it was when he was 5!
Then there’s the topic of marital property division (also known as equitable distribution or community property, depending on the state you live in).
There's a common misconception that in a divorce, everything you own must be divided 50-50.
But that’s not always the case.
Did you know that even in states like California where things start out 50-50, you and your husband can come to any agreement you like? It's true!
The division of marital assets and liabilities in a divorce is an extremely complex affair. And in most states, there is very little in the way of guidance when it comes to figuring out who gets what.
If you hire lawyers who can’t help you and your husband resolve this issue, you’ll have no choice but to battle it out in court in front of a judge.
And when a judge dictates the terms of your settlement, you could wind up with something you don’t find fair. Or, doesn’t meet your needs.
Finally, there’s alimony.
Unlike child support, there are very few guidelines or models available in most states for determining alimony (also known as spousal support, maintenance, or spousal maintenance depending on the state).
And even in states where there are guidelines or pre-determined formulas, there are situations where they will not apply, cannot be used and/or will create new problems.
Throw in the change in the tax treatment of alimony due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and you'll find agreeing on this challenging and highly contentious topic can be a nightmare.
In a lawyer-driven divorce, your family law attorney will want your husband to pay as much as possible while his attorney will want him to pay as little as possible. Round and round they'll go, arguing over what's fair, making proposals based in fantasy-land, and depleting your bank accounts with their mounting legal bills.
Alimony is an issue you could literally spend years battling out with your respective attorneys. And once it’s finally resolved, you never know what the final outcome will be.
Most everything that needs to be resolved in a divorce for a stay-at-home mom or anyone else for that matter sits in a gray area and is subject to negotiation.
Take your first step towards a peaceful divorce.
Choose the divorce method that’s better for you and your children.
And choose the expert divorce mediation team at Equitable Mediation.
That's the best option for a stay-at-home mom divorce.
As a stay at home parent, divorce mediation allows you and your children's father to have the realistic conversations necessary as parents, to come up with a parenting plan that works in the real world.
One that doesn't disrupt your children's routine. Or have them being cared for by a complete stranger.
You're much better off discussing what's best for your children in mediation.
Instead of in a court of law, having an attorney or judge decide for you.
To help you come to a realistic amount of child support, a competent divorce mediator will:
Work with you to prepare a budget outlining the children's ordinary expenses such as food and clothing;
Create a list of their extraordinary expenses such as daycare, music lessons, camps, and all the other fun stuff that pops up from time to time and they're involved in;
Discuss who will pay for what, what activities are realistic to continue and which ones may need to be curtailed; and
Develop a series of flexible child support arrangements that will change over time as your children get older and become more expensive to raise.
Mediators care about your children.
Almost as much as you do!
And you are more likely to develop and agree to a child support amount that will stand the test of time using mediation instead of fighting it out in court with divorce attorneys.
Divorce settlements don't fit a cookie-cutter mold.
Mediators help parties not only come to an agreement on how things should be divided but also explore the reasons behind why they should be divided that way.
Recognizing that everything might not be able to be split down the middle or resolved right away.
And if you're fortunate to select a divorce mediator with financial acumen, he'll be able to explain the tax implications of your settlement and how these might impact you when it comes time to retire.
These topics are critically important to women's (and their children's) financial future.
Finally, given your full-time job is to work inside the home, there is a good chance your husband will have to pay you alimony (also known as spousal support or maintenance).
And that's probably a sore subject for both of you.
But mediation takes a reality-based approach to alimony. And helps you create a settlement that you and your spouse both find fair.
One that lets each of you carry on your lives in a separate, but roughly equal, manner. And for a period of time you both agree is enough to get you back on your feet.
As a stay at home mom, divorce mediation is a better choice for determining fair alimony amounts.
When you work with a skilled professional divorce mediator, you won't be bullied by your husband. Or forced into agreeing with something you're not quite sure is fair to you or you don't understand.
Your mediator will also even the playing field by preventing a power imbalance. He'll help explain your financial picture to you and help you determine the financial support you and your children will need post-divorce.
Remember, there are very few laws that clearly spell out exactly what you're entitled to in a divorce. Divorce is less about the law and more about finances and being a good parent.
Divorce is a negotiation - which is exactly the nature of mediation. So you're better off working with a divorce mediator (who has a financial background) to end your marriage vs. a lawyer without one.
And in case you haven't already figured this out, by working with one mediator instead of two lawyers, you'll have a lot more money available to:
Stay in the house or buy a place of your own;
Pay off those credit cards;
Put your kids through college;
Save for your retirement;
And support yourself and your kids once the divorce is finalized.
So preserve the money, control the outcome and do what's best for you and your children.
Mediate your divorce!
As a Stay-at-Home Mom, the choices you make before you start your divorce are critical.
Regardless of how many years your marriage lasted, whether you're a wife who wants to divorce her husband or your husband is the one who wants to divorce you, the choices you make before you start your divorce will likely set the tone for how the entire process will unfold for you and your children.
And how peaceful, fair, child-focused, and cost-effective your divorce will (or won't) be.
But you can only make smart choices if you take the time to get educated and prepare for divorce first.
That's exactly why we created our online course - to help you do just that!
Equitable Mediation co-founder Cheryl Dillon is passionate about helping couples attain a peaceful, fair and cost-effective divorce while putting their children first. When she’s not supporting her clients through the emotional aspects of this significant life transition, you can find her trying to stick to an exercise program, practicing her singing lessons, tending to her garden, watching Cubs baseball, and trying to persuade Joe to adopt 5 or 10 more dogs.