Considering Divorce as a Stay-at-Home Parent

Parent Q&A

  • SAHM Preparing for possible Divorce

    (2 replies)

    I am a stay at home mother with two children, and have been married for over a decade. My husband is the bread winner, I have been a homemaker our entire marriage not working professionally outside of the home. Unfortunately divorce looks to be on my horizon, after years of effort and trying it is probably the road I need to choose. Would anyone here be able to recommend a good divorce attorney? I am looking for someone that has depth of experience in a situation like my own. I need to strategize a 2-5 year plan for myself, think of my two children, and how to best prepare myself financially. Thank you for your time 

    I have been a divorced mom for many years. Since it basically takes a minimum of 8 months to complete a divorce, I suggest you get a job outside the home immediately. The financial part of divorce in California is formula-based. Check Yelp and make an appointment with a family law attorney in the county in which you will divorce to find out the facts and leave out the emotion (I know it is emotional for you, but to the state of California, it is just a legal process). Then seriously, please get a job, any job, right away.

    In the same boat.  I would recommend going to the library and getting Nolo Press's book on divorce.  The book talks about options like mediation, etc.  I saw an attorney for 2 hours and it was $900.  Having read about the issues already, it kept the meeting shorter than it could have been.  I also recommend therapy if that is do-able.  It will enable you to go forward with confidence which again will save you money, you won't have to spend time with your attorney talking about whether you really want to divorce etc.  Like you, I need to figure out how to get back in the workforce, seems daunting to me, after more than 10 years, but good luck to both of us!  I would love to hear about any divorce support groups if any responders know of any. and if people found them useful or not.

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Questions

Husband wants divorce, I'm a SAHM

April 2009

My husband wants a divorce and he wants it ASAP. But, we have two young children and I want to make sure they are well taken care of. I've been at home with the kids for the last 5+ yrs. My husband works long hours as a litigator but says that he wants the kids 50% of the time. I'm pretty sure his motivation there is financial, so what can I do?

I was a preschool teacher before I had kids and have started subbing this school year. I didn't make much $$ before we had kids and I won't make much in the near future. So, I want to make sure our divorce agreement takes that into account. Plus, I obviously have no benefits or healthcare alone.

Also, we have talked about the house and about keeping the kids in one home for as long as possible (maybe up to one year). Hopefully, we will do well selling the house a year from now, but I'm wondering how to make sure everything works out fairly. THANK YOU!


Getting a divorce ASAP is HIS agenda for his possibly cliche reasons, and not yours. Your agenda is planning for the support of you and the kids. Get a lawyer now! Don't talk any more with him directly, put him off as much as you can citing (honestly) what a big decision this is, and if possible serve him with papers first. I'm sorry if I sound jaded but the ASAP and 50% seem like red flags to me that he's not in it for your or the kids' well-being. Plus, he's a litigator!? Uh-oh. And I'm sorry, it's scumbag behavior to leave a woman when the kids are so young. (There you have my bias.) All the things you mention are valid and are customarily considered. But get an attorney! Anon


Get a very good divorce lawyer.... anon


You are raising several complicated questions: child and spousal support, selling a home, custody and visitation. You should consult with a family law attorney as soon as possible to understand how these issues work. It's money well spent. anonymous


You definitely have substantial rights here, and you need to get your own lawyer. Everyone will tell you that. And as a divorced mom, I understand your angry feelings toward your children's father, but I would urge you to avoid assuming that his desire to have the children half-time is motivated by money alone. Let yourself believe that he really wants to help raise his kids (you probably have to let him do that anyway legally, so you might as well support the idea). If it turns out that parenting is not what he wants, he will probably want to change the custodial relationship later. In the meantime, you have significant rights to support even if he is a 50% custodial parent: both child support and spousal support, I would guess. Child support is state-mandated and is based on respective earnings; spousal support depends on the length of time the couple was married and their respective earnings or earning-power. My ex-husband and I were married for fifteen years, which is considered a ''long'' marriage, so I (the main breadwinner) am obliged to pay him spousal support for half that time. Spousal support is, however, negotiable, and so this is where you really need a lawyer to coach you. You will also need a lawyer to help you with division of property (half the house and half his retirement earned during marriage may be yours), staying in the house, etc. Since your husband is also a lawyer and a litigator, you had better look for a good representative. Usually I urge people to go into mediation, but in your case you might want to be careful -- you could broach that idea, but if your husband is not on board, it might not work. Good luck with your struggle. happily divorced


Miserable but as a SAHM I can't divorce

August 2006

I am miserable. I am a SAHM and have 3 kids under age 9. My husband is a very controlling person, and without going into the details, I feel horrible. Many years ago, we moved to the Bay Area, and I have been without a career since I became a parent. My husband controls all the money now, pays for everything, and watches me all the time when he is home. He is suspicious when I use the phone, and he tries to log into my files onto the computer (some of the passwords he knows, others he doesn't). I cannot buy anything without him finding out; I have no money of my own. He is not violent or physically abusive, but he is verbally abusive and always has to have his way. I do not have any way of starting up my old career, so I cannot be financially independent; I have only one local friend (the others are long-distance) and I am too humiliated to talk to her about my problems. I cannot pay for a therapist. For reasons that I will not go into, my parents are no help in this matter. I am afraid that if I were to leave him or go into counselling, he would try to take the kids. I cannot bear that, so I have to live with the status quo. Is there any support group out there or even an on-line group that I sign up for and can confide in? My only lifeline right now is my computer. Need Help


Run, don't walk to the National Domestic Violence Hotline - www.ndvh.org, 1-800-799-SAFE. You are in what sounds like an abusive relationship - things you mention like verbal abuse, monitoring your computer use, and controlling access to money are red flags, even if there is no physical violence going on. The website has some general information available, and if you call the hotline, you will be able to get referrals to local services in your area. It is a completely confidential service. You can get help, and you don't have to live with your situation. Most of all, you should know you are not alone - many women (and some men) have been through this and there are resources out there to help you. Good luck! DV advocate


Dear miserable, In your e-mail you offer no hint that your husband also finds the marriage unbearable or that he would go to couples' counseling. You sound as if you really need to escape and have no confidence in being able to talk to him. In physically abusive relationships I believe women are counseled to formulate an ''escape strategy.'' Can you ask your local friend to sit for your kids and arrange to talk to someone who doesn't charge -- perhaps someone at a non-profit women's center or even women's shelter? They could steer you toward the help you need, either in terms of getting back into your career or getting psychological help or legal advice. Your husband has no right to take your kids from you. But you will need to establish some way of living independently where you can have your kids with you, and people who work with women in your type of situation will have suggestions about that. I would really urge you to break your silence with your friend, first of all. You need someone to understand you and someone on your side. Don't be humiliated -- be active on your own behalf. Good luck! former spouse of a control freak


If you can't afford therapy, perhaps you could seek out a minister or rabbi whom you would feel comfortable talking to. Most clergy have training in counseling. David


Sahm - gave up career, thinking about divorce

March 2005

I married when I finished a masters at college, and since then have been dependent on my husband, for financial support for me and the children.

I'm finding this really hard to deal with; I feel guilty and humiliated at having to beg him for money; we used to have a joint bank account but he decided last year that I was 'extravagant' because I went out for coffee and bought my daughter Barbies...I never spend any money on myself, but always have tried to look after the children properly. I'm also confused and upset as his depiction of me as 'extravagant'. I haven't had a haircut for over two years...my clothes have holes in...

My oldest child has now reached eighteen, and my husband is completely refusing to support the child any more. He claims this is not because she's a stepchild - and yet I think this is the real reason why. This is really hard on the child, who hasn't even finished high school yet. My husband says that the child was a nightmare as a teenager, and doesn't deserve any help now.

He has a 'good' job at a college, and there is surplus income after paying the mortgage and food and household expenses. I feel upset at his lack of trust; before the marriage I had one child, and had lived alone supporting my daughter without any of these problems. I managed the finances and was able to save, and my daughter never knew there was a problem; although there was little money, she never felt short of anything - and I never felt criticised or unhappy with my spending.

I have not felt able to take a job, as it would have to be a very good one to cover the cost of childcare. Also I wanted to be with my children when they were young. I now find a lot of time has passed, and I have a lot of accumulated fear about re- entering the workforce. I have lost a lot of confidence, and don't know where to begin. But the overwhelming reason that I do not feel able to work is that at present I take full responsiblity for the childcare, supporting my husband in his (highly prestigious) academic position.

In my emotions (as you can see from that 'prestigious' comment), I am feeling bitter, sad, and quite frankly, used. This man has taken my time, my confidence, my happiness.

I would have liked to go back to college myself, to do a PhD, but again, the childcare responsiblities were too great.

Is it wrong for him to support me and the children? I feel that there is no moral reason why on earth he should give me money -

I've been feeling quite desperate, wondering whether to divorce. Are there other stay-at-home mothers who feel the same way? Is this a problem of pride? I feel so terrible having to ask him for money, having none of my own - and I can't see how to start to change this.

I have come to see the institution of marriage as humiliating and distressing. I was so much happier as a single parent.

I also do not like at all the example that all this is setting for my children - I feel compelled to leave to show them that women do not have to live like this. Amazed to find myself writing this


Wow. What you are going through sounds really, really hard, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to decide what to do next. Your situation sounds similar to what a close friend of mine went through a few years ago. She ultimately decided to leave the marriage. I'll try to explain how she articulates it now. Her decision to stay home and raise their children was based on the idea of shared responsibility for the family. Caring for and nurturing one's own children does not pay the bills, but it is at least as important as as the job that does. In her case, she realized that pre-children, she and her husband had thought of their money separately (ex/ the mortgage came out of ''her'' money and car payments came out of ''his''). When she stopped working, they didn't transition to the idea that the single income, while earned by her husband, belonged to the whole family. He gave her an allowance from ''his'' money, and like you she was put in the position of having to request more when needed, and often being turned down. She was being made to feel like a child, not capable of earning or handling money. And while her husband did not want her to return to work, he was adamant that the money he earned was ''his,'' and that he could decide exactly how it would be spent. Ultimately, this was a huge control issue, and one that my friend's husband had no desire to resolve (refused marriage counseling, etc.) I certainly hope that this is not the case for you and your husband, but I would urge you to see a counselor together to work through this. No one should have to live in a relationship where one person has complete control. anonymous


There is a very good reason why he should give you money - you are his WIFE!!! Because of your presence and your contributions, he has not had to hire a nanny, cook, and housekeeper. Your contributions are real and concrete - don't let him convince you otherwise.

You didn 't say how old your younger children are, are they now in school? If so, after-school care isn't that expensive. I think you would find that you don't need the best-paying job in the world to cover the cost of after-school care, and I think having a job would do you a world of good, psychologically.

However, given that you have been out of the job market for a long time, you might need to take a graduated approach here. I think you might want to start with some counselling to help you rebuild your shattered self-esteem. It sounds like your controlling husband will probably refuse to give you the money (grrr...it makes me angry just to type that!), but there are places that will do it on a sliding scale. I am sure someone else will write in to suggest where! Next, you might try volunteering somewhere, just to get back into contact with the working world. You can probably arrange to do volunteer work while your kids are in school. Once you have some experiences and some contacts established, you can start looking for a job.

If your children are still young, you could aim for doing some volunteer work when they get old enough to go to preschool. Lots of studies have shown that children benefit enormously from preschool, so you would actually be doing your children a favor by sending them to preschool and gaining some time for yourself.

Your husband would probably benefit from counselling too, to deal with the covert hostility that he is taking out on you, but I suspect he probably will refuse to go. So you need to take steps to look after yourself.

Hang in there! Change is hard, but it can be done! anonymous well-wisher


Hi - this is not normal behavior. I'm not a SAHM, but in my marriage, went from a confident, independent feminist to a woman who couldn't decide where to go for dinner - out of fear that it would be the ''wrong'' choice (anything but what he would pick!). I recommend reading ''Men who hate women and the women who love them''. I can't remember the author and no longer have the book, but after my husband and I both read it, we realized his behavior was at the mild end of controlling behaviors described in the book. Money is a huge issue and some men routinely use it to control their wives. My husband recognized himself in the book and promised to change, but I had had enough - several counselors and years of this! Now we're divorced and I'm much happier - and hope he really has changed for the next woman! Anyway, maybe it isn't too late for you and your husband. Anonymous


I agree completely with you about how he treats you - you are an indentured servant. Anyone would feel miserable and depressed in your situation. Good for you for seeing that you are setting a pattern that your kids would likely follow. Good for you for thinking you should get out. I hope you do.

And no, it is not wrong for him to support you financially. The way I see it, he is greatly in arrears considering the time and effort you have likely put in to those children. Both my partner and I concur we'd be outta there. You can do it!


Um, for starters -- it's not ''his'' money, it's the family's money. Could he have his prestigious job if you weren't there to look after the kids? I don't think so. He works outside the home, you work inside. The whole idea that you have to ask him for money because he has the salaried job is really bass-ackward.

You sound really burnt out. Do you have a friend or relative you could go stay with for a few days -- without your husband or kids? Go get that haircut and eat some ice cream and take a few long walks. Sounds like they're all old enough to muddle along for a few days without you, and you need some melodrama-free time to sort out your priorities. It's very hard to assert yourself as a SAHM and say ''Look, I need some personal time!'' but sometimes it has to happen!

Deep breaths. Good luck. Another SAHM


For heaven's sake, leave! If you were happier as a single parent, you resent having given up your career, you want to set an example for your daughters, then go! I'm sure it will be hard, but it will be so worth it to be able to control your own fate. anon


Get thee to a lawyer pronto. You have a long road ahead of you should you decide to divorce. You can do this if it what you decide to do, but you need to plan ahead. Get a credit card in your name only and build up good credit for yourself. See a lawyer to help you determine your husband's assets. This is a community property state, and you deserve financial support and half of the assets gained during the marriage. Take your time and research your options. Good luck. Gretchen


Wow, I really appreciate the difficulty of the position you are in, and can completely understand why you are feeling angry with your husband. Your eldest doesn't ''deserve'' to be supported any more? I think of what our child- rearing specialist said ''children deserve, parents EARN.'' Which is to say, parents must EARN their children's love, respect, etc., children DESERVE all of that, by virtue of being children. Nothing else, period.

As for the institution of marriage, my husband and I believe that the point of being married is to support one another achieve one's hopes and dreams. Not just one of you, BOTH of you. If this is not happening, then perhaps some Marriage counseling is in order? Would your husband be willing to try? Frankly, some of the things he says don't sound supportive, but sound motivated by a desire to undermine your self esteem (the ''extravagant'' thing).

However, I do have to add that your husband didn't ''take'' anything from you that you didn't GIVE him. I would just reiterate, before you go for a divorce, look into marriage counseling. Read some books (I recommend ''The Good Marriage'' and ''Getting the Love You Want''). It sounds like some serious communication between the two of you is needed, but you probably need an objective facilitator (therapist, counselor, whatever) to help with this. You both need to air your concerns and needs and be clear about what those are. If your husband won't go with you, go on your own, and then decide what to do. If he won't give you the money for it, find some one who will do a work-trade with you, I'm sure they're out there. Best of luck! Anon


I was a stay at home mom for nearly 17 years, taking care of three children. My husband was building his career as an attorney, with my support and encouragement, and from a legal point of view, with my direct assistance since I took care of the children and he could/would not. I never imagined he would take off, but he did. It has been five years since he made his announcement, and the financial consequences have been significant. After he said he wanted to go, I immediately began looking for work, and just made the children adjust. I worked until the end of the school day, but it was still horrible. They resented the change, mainly because it meant I had no time for them sicne after picking them up, I still had to do all the things I normally did while they were in school. I had earned $40K when I was last at work all those years ago; now I was lucky to command $20/hour. That rate was only b/c I was working part-time. The most common jobs for women returning to the workplace pay about $12/hour, and there are many employers, especially in the suburbs, who are eager to hire women in this situation. Also, if you look at the statistics, you will find many, many college educated women are working at support jobs, rather than management - there was an analysis of this published recently, in the past year. At any rate, it was horribly depressing. I chose to go back to school, taking two years of classes at Cal to rebuild my academic track record (since it had been so long)and then getting admitted to Mills College for a master's program. I aim to teach community college, competing with 150 other canddiates for any full-time permanent position, against the many, many other adjunct teachers out there. It was the best career reentry program I could come up with, and it is not a sure thing by any means. I love teaching, but the salary will come nowhere near my previous standard of living. I may lose my home, and really, I feel quite pessimistic about the future. I used the equity in the house to pay for the program, and to uphold the standard of living my children were accustomed to when the judge ruled that living on 50% of the prior income was still living at the same standard of living. By the way, my husband left for a woman who earns over $100K; that was a critical factor. You have an equal right to the checking account if you are married. That is the first issue. You should consult an attorney. Rebuilding your career skills is a process, and does not produce immediate results. Lawyers have been successful in assigning unrealistic earning capacity to women. There's lots more to say, but please call or write if you want to discuss: Judith 333-6881, or jrathbon [at] mills.edu. I can only wonder why women are not speaking to each other about these matters - I find them to be highly political and worthy of discussion. The women who chose to raise their children are punished at the end of the day if the men chose to leave. I believe taking care of children is actual work, and I feel strongly that it should be recognized as such. Judith


I could have written the same letter 4 years ago. Your situation is eerily similar to mine. I'll tell you what I did: This is my second marriage. I also have a daughter from my previous marriage and we have an 8 year old son together. Like you, I raised my daughter on my own for 10 years after I left her father. You know, sometimes it's just easier when only one person is making the rules, even though we struggled financially. Then I met Mr. Right, or so I thought. Unfortunately, he and my daughter never really got along. Now I know that he was too immature and abusive to make the relationship work. Fast forward 8 years, to where you are now.

He began to talk about not supporting my daughter through college. He told me to work. So I gave him an ultimatum: Either he support her, or we sell the house (which had appreciated considerably) so that I could use my 1/2 to pay for her. He caved, but it could have gone the other way. And you know what? If it had, I would have gotten a job to support her. I will not get a job just to ''satisfy'' him.

I was then a SAHM, like you, and he also after a temper tantrum, opened his own account. It took anger management counseling for him to begin to give me the household money every month BEFORE I asked. He was told that I had a right to ask for a sum without justifying every penny, and also a right to have it without asking for it.

The trick was getting him to go to counseling. It took the threat of legal action. One day he poked my chest with a car key, he knocked the wind out of me and I went to the E.R., where the doctors filed a domestic violence report. I was very very close to not pressing charges,my mother pressured me (''he'll get angry, what if he loses his job?'') but I called the Abused Women's hotline and they talked me through the whole thing. IT SAVED MY LIFE. This had been the only physical incident, but the emotional abuse had been going on for a long time and that's the worse, because you know what? Wounds heal, but emotions are another thing.You're slowly beaten down. It's normal to feel powerless, trapped and weak in a relationship like yours which is clearly abusive. The doctors in the ER did what I wasn't able to do for myself. And I did for my daughter what I couldn't do for myself. Maybe it'll give you strength to think of it that way.

Now it's 4 years later and he's making noises again. He's again threatening to close our joint account, which he opened after he got tired of giving me money every month. Now he threatens divorce. This time, I told him that I would see a lawyer immediately to get support during the separation period. That stopped him, for now.

I really thought we wouldn't go this route again after 4 years, but I know that men relapse after stopping anger management counseling, which he attended for 1 1/2 years.

Why I stay. We have similar values, want to provide a home for our son and most of the time, he's great. However, I am seriously thinking about making an ''escape'' plan in case he falls into the same abusive pattern. I don't want another ''incident'' that will force him to go to counseling again.

I really feel for you. I know you will get lots of other good advice and information from others in this group so I'll end it now. Please know that you deserve respect and have value as a human being. He is in a bad place and is taking it out on you, but it doesn't have to be the only way. You are not alone. Mother first


First of all - whether or not you can think of a moral reason why your husband should give you money because you are a resident in California you have a legal right to a share of your husband's assets. California is a community property state - this means in part that in the eyes of the law your husbands earnings are partly your - that was the deal when you got married -a ssets that you accumulate together (through his wages, a home etc...) are shared jointly between the spouses. This law is too complicated to explain fully here and I don't have the knowledge to get too specific, but you should know that the law does not view your husband's income soley as his property - if you divorce you will probably get some alimony from him for this reason...

Also it might be valuable for you to calculate what it woud cost your husband if you were to go to work. How much would full-time daycare really be (going rate for a nanny for infants is about $10/hr. - it adds up fast) add to that costs of a cleaning person - someone to drop-off/pick-up dry cleaning so he looks presentable at this ''prestigous'' job and I bet you're going to be saving your family about 60K /yr. by the time you ge tthrough - my friend went through it this way and I'll tell you it opened her husband's eyes to the ''true'' value of the work she did.

Ultimately - it also sounds as though your husband is being somewhat abusive in his controlling behavior - both over you and over your access to money.

If you can, I would go see an admissions counselor at the UC (or whatever school you were thinking of) and lay out your situation - many shcools offer fantastic low-cost full time daycare for students (many UC PhDs with small kids extend their time as student in order to take advantage of the daycare and housing benefits)- so your dreams may not be as unattainable as you imagine -

Good luck - it sounds like you've hit a really rough patch and you schoul absolutely try and talk with your husband about hte way his actions make you feel - failing that do what you need to do to take your life back into your hands - youv'e been confident before and it will come back again once you start to take care of yourself. best of luck rooting for you


Wow. What a tough situation. You must feel a bit abandoned by your husband, or that he's trying to change the rules on you midstream after you've distanced yourself from your career, making it much harder and more complicated to reenter the work world. I'm going to go out on a limb and offer a slightly different perspective from the other posts, though: it sounds to me as if you and your husband have lost your sense of partnership along the way. I am guessing (from complicated personal experience I won't bore you with) that he might be feeling enormously pressured about being the sole financial support for your family, including his step daughter. Even people with high paying jobs these days sometimes feel no financial security, and it's quite common for someone to be in the work world to assume anyone who is staying at home has it much easier. That breeds a lot of resentment and distrust, especially if he's not completely wild about his career or current job situation. It's not the ideal reaction, but it is a common and human one. I agree in principle with the previous comments that in CA you are legally and morally entitled to half of the income accrued during your marriage. Whether or not your husband is obligated to support your daughter from a previous marriage (I'm assuming he didn't adopt her?) is a bit fuzzier. Morally, it seems yes--legally, I'll bet ''no''. You didn't mention whether her biological dad is living or in the picture, but there may be an avenue to seek child support from him, and just attempting to do so might get your husband to see you're being proactive in caring for her without relying on him. Even if you decide to leave him, you and she deserve that support from the person responsible. Another suggestion, if you feel you want to try to hold your marriage together, that might give him a better appreciation for what you do: look into buying meaningful life insurance for yourself. First, since he is not likely to continue supporting your daughter if something should happen to you, you owe it to her. Second, a good broker will make you think through what the value would be of replacing the work you do, when hiring people from the outside. The idea of life insurance should be to provide financial cover to replace you (there is no emotional cover!). Childcare, cooking, shopping, cleaning, driving, tutoring, laundry, bill paying, you name it. When your husband sees what it would ''cost'' to replace you, he might have a better appreciation for all you do to contribute to your family's financial well being. It might be a bit more neutral way to remind him than confronting him on the more emotional issues. been there, no longer doing that