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Alimony Concerns for Stay at Home Parents

alimony concernsStay-at-home parenting is becoming rarer by the day. Bureau of Labor statistics show that, “In 1967, 49 percent of mothers were stay-at-home mothers. That proportion steadily dropped through the decades until 1999, when only 23 percent of moms stayed at home,” according to the Bureau of Labor article, “Stay at Home Mothers through the years”. We expect with Millennials and beyond, that rate may drop even lower. Regardless of the statistics, there are thousands of parents opting to stay home with the kids. Consider the following scenario…

A couple meets. Both are competent, educated, and employed. They fall in everlasting love. One knee. Cue the barn with twinkly lights and tulle and a road trip to Calgary. Buy a house. Have a baby. Sell that house and buy a bigger house… and adopt a dog… and a bigger dog. Install a swing set. Then there comes a day when both parents are rushing off to work. The wife is pregnant. The child is sick and the sprinkler guy is coming at lunchtime. They are arguing over who’s turn it is to drop off at daycare when a nightlight-sized idea illuminates in somebody’s brain…“What if I just took a few years at home while the kids are little? We could save a ton on daycare costs and dry cleaning.” Then one of the most important choices of married life ensues over Diet Coke at the kitchen table. Should one of us stay home with the kids?

Stay-at-home parenting can bring benefits to the whole family but going from two incomes to one can carry serious impacts beyond the immediate reduced wages. We understand that no one wants to talk about divorce at a time when the family is flourishing, but the time to have the conversation is before someone quits a job. We at Kathryn Wayne-Spindler and Associates want people to be informed about divorce topics – like alimony concerns – that are especially crucial for one-income families.

First off, the goal of spousal support is to allow both parties to continue living at a reasonable standard after divorce. It is not supposed to be punitive or make up for lost wages.

What that means for the stay-at-home parent: It’s becoming exceedingly rare that alimony awards are substantial enough to sustain a non-working parent indefinitely. Spousal support may provide a bridge while the non-working parent seeks retraining, employment and insurance. We don’t want to discourage stay-at-home parenting, but hope people will make informed decisions about quitting work.

Secondly, support is not a statutory determination like child support. That means that although there are commonly acknowledged guidelines, the awarding of alimony is at the individual judge’s discretion. In general, to determine spousal support, the courts will look at a number of factors including the length of the marriage; the parties’ ages, education, mental and physical health; age of the children; fault; ability of the provider to pay alimony; and the relative incomes, employment and assets of each party.

What this means for the non-wage earner:The difference in income is just one piece of the alimony formula. Spousal support may not make up for lost wages or compensate for missed career advancement. Since alimony is not based on a state-mandated formula, the parties and their lawyers may have some leeway to design mutually-beneficial arrangements. Support agreements may include lump sum payments or trade-offs for other assets or property. Support is modifiable as future income or living circumstances change.

Quite often, the stay-at-home parent’s financial contributions are in terms of savings – DIY house painting, coupon clipping, and daycare costs. But while those decreased expenses improve the family’s financial picture over all, it does not equate to attributed income. So when it comes to alimony negotiations, our non-working clients are sometimes surprised and disheartened to hear about imputed income.

What it means for the stay-at-home parent: The courts may look at full-time parenting as voluntary underemployment. When comparing incomes, the courts are allowed to consider imputed income (what the non-working parent could be making) For instance, if a parent with a master’s degree and a well-paying job decides to stay home, the courts may look at what other similarly-credentialed employees are earning as well as the pay for existing jobs that the stay-at-home parent might qualify for at the time of divorce.

The family law attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler and Associates are well aware that alimony concerns are an important factor in any divorce decision – especially for one-income families. We urge families to consider all their options when making big decisions about employment and income. Contact our Milford, Michigan office at 248-676-1000 for information about divorce, custody, support, parenting time and many more family law issues. We help clients throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Livingston and Genesee counties as well as Mid-Michigan in Clare, Gladwin, Ogemaw and Roscommon counties. Our experienced attorneys successfully handle cases in Milford; Hartland; Highland; White Lake; Commerce; Walled Lake; Waterford; West Bloomfield; South Lyon; New Hudson; Brighton; Howell; Ann Arbor; Holly; Fenton; Flint; Linden; Clarkston; Houghton Lake; Higgins Lake; Roscommon and many more local communities.