Usually the decision to stay at home after starting a family is driven by finances or a deep, emotional need to be close to those babies. However, this move can have a significant impact on the stay-at-home parent’s career as well as the marriage.
Everything changes after babies.
If you’re a mom you can relate to this. After you have babies your relationship with your friends is different. How you feel in your body and how you view yourself changes drastically (sometimes for the worse but that’s a conversation for a different day). How you feel about your parents and your relationship with them changes. Your time with and how you feel about your spouse changes (sometimes daily) and that affects your marriage as a whole.
An overwhelming feeling that some new mothers get is the urge to quit their jobs and stay at home with their new baby. Usually that emotion is countered by the logic of the household needing two incomes to repay significant student loan debt or credit card debt, or both, which can then be compounded by the cost of a wedding.
If multiple babies come along, the cost of daycare and the stress of balancing everything becomes overwhelming and the conversation shifts again. Now there is talk of moving to a one income household and that one parent will stay at home with the kids. Usually it’s the mother…partly because societal norms still dictate they be the primary caregiver and partly because the glass ceiling ensures their paycheck is lower than their husbands.
“The main difference becomes allowing yourself to navigate a difficult conversation with a lawyer when things are good versus navigating a difficult conversation with a therapist when things are bad.”
If you find yourself having these conversations, or are considering making this move or know someone who might be – please consider the next four items before making your decision.
1. Think of this as a career change.
By stepping out of the workforce you are essentially making a complete career shift. Being the stay-at-home parent will be your new job. You will be putting any current career aspirations on the shelf while you stay at home. Your re-entry to the workforce could be difficult given the gap in employment you will have. You should consider the terms of this decision and agreement, if not negotiate them, just as you would another job.
2. Becoming a stay-at-home parent will not make things easier.
Family law attorney Ashley Heitkamp says, “A common argument I hear from the working parent is that they never really wanted their soon-to-be-ex to stay home. That it was their choice and they just wanted to support them or felt they had no choice. Meanwhile, the stay-at-home parent can begin to build resentment that they have too little adult interactions or are under-appreciated. Similarly, the working parent often expresses resentment at having to be the sole breadwinner.”
If you are experiencing difficulty in your marriage, adding multiple children, lack of sleep, and a major life change into the mix will not make things easier.
3. Consider the alternative if your marriage doesn’t survive the change.
Resist the urge to think life is all fairy tales and rainbows and consider the worst-case-scenario. We all buy life insurance to protect ourselves from an untimely death that is extremely unlikely and this is no different.
If you and your partner end up seeking divorce, (which, not that anyone needs a reminder, but here it is, chances are about 50%) Spousal Support might not save you. Judges have a lot of discretion in this area so it’s a bit of a lottery on how this can come out. Some judges are more liberal with ordering spousal support while others feel it should only be granted in extreme circumstances.
The key thing to remember is that even if the Court feels spousal support is appropriate, there simply may not be enough money to go around. A salary that was able to support one household may not be able to support two households. Furthermore, spousal support is often only granted for certain periods of time (usually until the receiving spouse can get back on their feet.) This means that the receiving spouse will be expected to start their careers over, often after not working outside the home for several years.
4. The cost of a postnuptial agreement is 1/4 that of a year of marriage counseling.
We hate to sound like bargain shoppers here, but so many couples fail to prepare for the unforeseen difficulties of marriage. Many women think that if things go haywire they’ll just go to marriage counseling and work it out. Aside from the fact that many men refuse marriage counseling, there’s also the fact that a year’s worth of marriage counseling can cost upwards of $8,000. Visiting a therapist once a week for a year to undo bitter resentments built up over the years costs around $150/hr, which is probably on the low end. Not to mention the time you need to take away from work and the kids to make it happen. Add in babysitters and PTO to that and financially, it’s a burden.
A simple postnuptial agreement can cost around $2,000 in legal feels. If you’re not familiar with a ‘postnup’ most states now allow for married couples to enter into these “postnuptial agreements” which are very similar to a prenuptial agreement, but are entered into AFTER the parties are married. The couple can discuss how they want to handle the issue of spousal support (often referred to as ‘alimony’), retirement, and overall expectations if the couple divorces or separates later.
The main difference becomes allowing yourself to navigate a difficult conversation with a lawyer when things are good versus navigating a difficult conversation with a therapist when things are bad.
At the end of the day, you know the right decision to make for your family. It’s just a matter of making it. You owe it to yourself and your family to have a difficult conversation now to reach the best possible outcome.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Please contact an attorney to obtain advice as to your particular situation.