How To Get a Divorce as a Stay-At-Home Mom

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If you are considering divorce, the idea of being a single mother can be terrifying, especially if you are a stay-at-home mom (SAHM). Your first thought might be to wonder how you will be able to provide for your children. If you are economically reliant on your partner, the thought of starting over with your children can leave you reeling. What will your financial situation look like? Will you be able to go back to work, and if so, how will you handle child care? Divorce can be both a burden and a relief for many families. As a stay-at-home parent seeking a divorce, you might feel trapped and unsure of your next steps. You do not have to go through this ordeal alone. The Northern Virginia divorce attorneys at ShounBach are ready to guide you through the divorce process.

What Does It Mean to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom?

Before continuing further into how stay-at-home moms can navigate their divorce proceedings, it might be helpful to discuss what the term “stay-at-home mom” actually means. A stay-at-home mom or a stay-at-home partner is a parent who raises the children and manages the household, usually while the other parent works outside the home.

Stay-at-home moms may have children ranging in age from newborns to teenagers. In some cases, these mothers or partners left a job or a career so they would have time to raise the children. Some, but not all, might have had a high-paying job before leaving the workforce and may plan to return to work when the children are older or out of the home.

The many roles of a stay-at-home mom have changed over the years. They often perform many jobs around the house, including cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and watching the children. They may spend much of their time managing their kids’ activities and driving them from school to places like sports practice or music lessons. As more and more families pursue homeschooling, stay-at-home moms have added “teacher” to their list of titles. They often also provide important support for their partners by keeping the marital home running smoothly.

Reasons a Stay-at-Home Mother Files for Divorce

The rate of divorce filings by stay-at-home moms has been slowly increasing in recent decades. The most recent study from the Pew Research Center found that approximately 20 percent of SAHMs file for divorce.

A stay-at-home mom can have any number of reasons for wanting a divorce. Some spouses may find that the peaceful incompatibility and indifference they and their partners feel towards each other has led them to no-fault divorce. However, some divorce cases involve fault-based grounds based on emotional or physical abuse or infidelity.

Stay-at-home moms pursue divorce despite concern over losing their spouse’s financial support, particularly when one or more fault-based grounds are involved. Virginia law provides several grounds for divorce that require proof that a spouse is at fault for the breakup of the marriage, including:

  • Adultery or infidelity
  • Abuse involving cruelty or fear of imminent harm
  • Abandonment or desertion
  • Conviction of a felony with a prison sentence of at least one year

Should Stay-at-Home Moms Consider Getting Jobs Before Divorce?

Woman and Child Working at a Desk Together
Divorce is a stressful process under the best of circumstances. Divorce can be even more harrowing for a stay-at-home mom because of the financial uncertainty. You might have left the workforce years ago to raise your children, and now the job market looks quite different from what you remember. A college degree does not seem to go as far as it once did. You could end up with a low-paying job that barely covers the rising cost of daycare.

We do not mean for this to sound discouraging. You should understand your financial situation at the beginning of the divorce process so that you know how much money you have and how much you need. Getting a job can help you get on your feet, but a paycheck is not your only source of financial support during and after the divorce.

Once a divorce proceeding is started, it is possible for the court to order your spouse to begin making support payments to you while the divorce case is pending. This will almost certainly include temporary child support and health insurance coverage for the children. Depending on the circumstances of the marriage, it could also include spousal support (or alimony). These orders remain in effect until the court issues new orders or grants a final divorce.
However, Virginia law does expect all parties to earn income to their full potential to support both themselves and their minor children, so career planning is essential when contemplating divorce.

What Happens to a Stay-at-Home Mom During a Divorce in Virginia?

Your divorce will proceed according to Virginia laws. The court will consider issues like child custody, child support, spousal support, and division of marital property between you and your spouse.
The court can also order your spouse to pay some or all of your attorney fees.

Your Checklist to Complete During Divorce

You need to start thinking about your financial and personal future. Regardless of whether you return to full-time or part-time work, you will need to be able to manage your money on your own without your spouse’s help. Divorce advice from an experienced family law attorney can get you started.

One way you can begin preparing for your divorce case and your new life post-divorce is by gathering as much information about your finances as possible, including:

  • Bank account statements
  • Credit card bills
  • A list of assets, including the marital home, vehicles, jewelry, and other valuables
  • Sources of income, including your spouse’s paycheck and investment income
  • Retirement accounts, such as IRAs or 401(k)s
  • Life insurance policies
  • Tax returns for the past five years
  • Loan statements and other liabilities, including your mortgage
  • Regular bills, including debt payments, utilities, insurance premiums, and child care expenses
  • Estate planning documents, such as wills, living trusts, and powers of attorney
  • Usernames and passwords for important online accounts
  • A copy of your credit report and credit score
  • Identification documents for yourself, your children, and your spouse, such as driver’s licenses, passports, and Social Security cards

You will need to consider several important aspects of the divorce process. Your attorney can tell you more about each of these in regard to your specific circumstances:

  • Child custody: The court will want to see that the children have parenting time with both parents and that the parents can make decisions about the children’s health, education, and welfare.
  • Child support: One parent typically makes payments to the other parent for the support of the children.
  • Property division: You must identify all marital property, which Virginia defines as most property you and your spouse acquired during the marriage. If you cannot agree on dividing the marital property, the court will make an “equitable distribution” between you.
  • Spousal support: In some situations, one spouse may be entitled to support payments from the other spouse. This often occurs when one spouse has far greater earning capacity than the other, such as when one spouse works and the other is a stay-at-home parent.

Am I Entitled to Spousal Support Payments as a Stay-At-Home Mom in Virginia?

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is not as common as it used to be, but it is still a factor in many divorce cases. This is particularly true when one spouse worked outside the home while the other was a stay-at-home parent. Virginia law recognizes that the parent who did not work provided invaluable services to the family. Spousal support can be a way to make sure both spouses have the means to start new lives apart from one another.

Courts in Virginia must consider a variety of factors when deciding on spousal support, including the following:

  • Each spouse’s income, resources, needs, and financial obligations
  • The standard of living that each spouse enjoyed during the marriage
  • The spouses’ ages and health
  • Each spouse’s contributions to the “well-being of the family,” including both financial and non-financial contributions
  • The needs of a child or children who primarily reside with one spouse
  • Each spouse’s level of education
  • Each spouse’s earning capacity, as well as the amount of time, effort, and expense it would take for a spouse to obtain the necessary education or training to get a job
  • Whether one spouse chose to leave the workforce to care for the children
  • Whether one spouse supported the other spouse while the other spouse obtained an education

A spousal support award may consist of a single lump sum payment or periodic payments. Those payments may continue for a fixed period of time or indefinitely. The amount and length of a spousal support obligation will depend on the specific circumstances of each case:

  • A court might order a spouse to pay spousal support for the amount of time it will take the other spouse to complete a degree or finish a job training program.
  • A spouse who has never worked outside the home and has no higher education might receive an open-ended spousal support award.
  • A court might also indefinitely award spousal support to a spouse if they have primary custody of a child with special needs.

Spousal support might not be available in some fault-based divorce cases. According to Virginia law, a spouse who committed adultery is not eligible to receive spousal support unless the court finds that denying them support payments “would constitute a manifest injustice.”

As your divorce attorneys, we know that you have been relying financially on your spouse for years while you raised the children. Our goal, therefore, is to negotiate for the best amount of alimony possible for you.

Who Receives Custody of the Children If I Am a Stay-At-Home Mom?

Mother and Child Smiling as Child Hugs Mother
Virginia courts will decide on child custody arrangements based on what is in the best interests of the children. If you have been a stay-at-home mom and the children are accustomed to you being their primary caregiver, the court will likely give that considerable weight when deciding custody. It is not uncommon for the stay-at-home mom to be awarded primary custody, while the other parent has the right to visitation and parenting time.

Child Support

Just like with child custody, the purpose of child support is to ensure the children’s best interests are met. In Virginia, child support is determined by a formula based on both parents’ monthly income and a number of other variables. Therefore, if one parent has a job outside the home while the other provides full-time child care, it is likely that the first parent will pay child support to the other.

Will a Judge Rule in Favor of a Stay-At-Home Mom?

While judges frequently award custody of the children to SAHMs, there is no guarantee that this will happen. The fact that you have been their full-time caregiver is only one factor that a court must consider when determining what will be in a child’s best interests.

How Does a Divorce Affect Property Division in Virginia?

Virginia follows the rules of “equitable distribution” when it comes to marital property. This means that the court must divide marital property between the spouses fairly. It does not mean that this division must be an exact 50/50 split. If you cannot agree on a division of marital property as part of a divorce settlement, the court will look at many of the same factors it considers when deciding on spousal support to determine what would be fair.

Starting Over After Divorce as a Stay-At-Home Mom

Divorce is not the end of the world, although it will bring major changes to your life and your children’s lives. You will have many decisions to make as you start your new life. The following items should be on your radar as you transition into post-divorce life. A knowledgeable Virginia divorce attorney can help you along the way.

Update Your Estate Plan

You might need to change your estate planning documents to reflect your new marital status. You probably also want to remove your spouse from various designations, such as the beneficiary on insurance policies, the attorney-in-fact on a power of attorney, or the executor of a will.

Think About the Work Force

You have an opportunity to provide for yourself and your children without relying on your former spouse. You may be able to find short-term gigs or a part-time position if you are not quite ready to jump back in with both feet.

Do Not Wait to Start Planning

It is never too early to start planning for your future. If you believe your marriage is headed toward divorce, now is a good time to begin planning for what you will do after it ends. You have plenty of help available to get you there.

Breathe. You Found Us.

If you have questions about divorce as a stay-at-home parent, the family law attorneys at ShounBach are here to help. We handle a wide range of family law matters, as well as estate planning and other practice areas. Our firm has been recognized in Super Lawyers and the U.S. News list of Best Law Firms. We have offices in Leesburg and Fairfax and can assist stay-at-home parents throughout Northern Virginia. Contact us today at 703-222-3333 or through our online contact form to find out what we can do for you.

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Written By ShounBach

Since 1975, ShounBach has served the Northern Virginia community. Our team brings over 200 years of combined legal experience and has grown to be one of Virginia’s largest family and estate law firms.

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