Women who have sacrificed their careers to raise families are often at a disadvantage when they divorce, but they are better protected in states like California that have community property laws. While most states require marital property to be divided equitably, it must be divided equally in states with community property laws. This subtle distinction can be crucial in divorce cases involving stay-at-home moms because what is equitable in these situations is open to interpretation.
This kind of situation is quite common as one in four American mothers still choose to stay home and raise their children rather than pursuing careers. This choice can have a profound effect when mothers divorce after decades of marriage as opportunities are often limited for those who venture out into the workforce later in life. This means that the outcome of property division and spousal support negotiations becomes far more significant.
Research reveals that divorcing stay-at-home mothers in equitable distribution states do not fare as well as they do in parts of the country with community property laws. They are rarely awarded half of the marital estate and seldom receive long-term alimony. Experts say that this disparity is a reflection of social attitudes that are still deeply rooted in the traditional gender roles of breadwinner and homemaker.
While stay-at-home mothers may have a stronger legal position in states like California, alimony can still be a contentious issue when couples divorce. Attorneys may suggest that couples take a proactive approach to this issue and enter into prenuptial or postnuptial agreements when decisions are made about which spouse will go to work and which spouse will stay home. Having such an agreement in place may prevent costly and public court battles and might help marriages to endure by eliminating the suspicion and fear that often undermines them.