What are stay-at-home parents entitled to in a divorce?

When one spouse works and the other takes care of the household and children, is the working spouse’s contribution worth more, monetarily? Or does having someone who will ensure the house is clean, meals are served, and children are cared for make it easier to build wealth and be successful professionally? If so, should that value be accounted for in a divorce?

In Pennsylvania, we divide property and debts on what is referred to as an “equitable” basis. That means that these items must be divided fairly, but not necessarily equally. There are a number of factors judges consider when dividing the marital estate, such as:

  1. The length of the marriage
  2. The current and future income, liabilities, ability, vocational skills and employability of each party
  3. Whether one party contributed to the education, training or increased earning power of the other
  4. Each party’s contribution to the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation of the marital property, including the contribution of a party as homemaker
  5. Each party’s separate property
  6. The standard of living established during the marriage
  7. Each party’s share in serving as custodian of the children

You may notice that factors 3 and 4 specifically address one party having contributed to the success of the other and the contribution of a homemaker to the overall wealth of the family. So, Pennsylvania does consider the contributions of a stay-at-home parent to be worthy of serious consideration.

Study: Homemaker moms unlikely to receive full value

To determine how the contributions of a homemaker might be valued in the real world, two Vanderbilt University law professors surveyed over 3,000 people. They presented the participants with six variations on a theoretical fact scenario involving the fictional John and Susan.

Both John and Susan worked until after the birth of their first child, at which point Susan became a full-time homemaker and caregiver. John filed for divorce after a 17-year marriage. The rest of the story — each spouse’s property, educational level and occupation — varied from participant to participant. The participants were asked to gauge how much of the marital estate Susan should receive.

While women tended to give Susan a greater share overall, and their awards varied little depending on Susan’s characteristics. Men tended to give Susan more if she had a higher education. More men felt that the breadwinner role was superior, while more women felt the homemaker role was an important factor. Both sexes did recognize that the homemaker role was valuable, however.

Overall, the study found that the homemaker was unlikely to be awarded fully half of the marital estate. Do you think that would be fair?