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Stay At Home Parents

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Family at home relaxing on carpetStay At Home Parents (and their children) are at risk of living in poverty in the event of divorce!

Parents make difficult choices when they decide to have a family!
Most difficult among those choices is whether the child will benefit more:

a) by having a stay-at-home parent and less family income or

b) by institutionalizing the child 8 or 9 hours a day in order to grow both parent’s careers and have a better standard of living.

This article is not intended to debate the risks children are exposed to when they have two working parents. Nor is it intended to debate the risks associated with living in poverty!

Rather, the purpose of this article is to encourage parents who value the role of the “stay-at-home” parent to learn about how divorce law in Indiana is stacked against the children of these households in the event of a divorce.

In a nutshell, Indiana addresses the disparity in income that frequently accompanies a divorce between a stay-at-home parent and the working parent as follows:

1. The lower income parent might get more than 50% of the marital estate, or

2. The higher income parent might be ordered to pay a sum of money to help the other parent “rehabilitate” his or her lack of education or career choices. This contribution is limited to three (3) years.

So – let’s say Dad went to college and then to medical school while Mom stayed home and took care of home and hearth. These parents valued the benefits of having only one working parent and they discovered that Mom’s work increased as the children became teenagers. While Mom developed many skills managing a home and children, she failed to grow a career or retirement income for perhaps 15 or 20 years!

Do you think that 3 years of tuition and book fees will keep these children from living in poverty? Even with considerable child support, the children in this family will most likely go from being a “prince” to a “pauper” every time they go from Dad’s house to Mom’s house. The law simply does not protect these children from this disparate life-style change between parents in the event of a divorce.

Similarly, if the divorce doesn’t occur until the last child has graduated from high school, this Mom will never overcome her failure to get an education or grow a career. Without a retirement plan and significant assets from the divorce, this woman will live in poverty during her remaining years.

Notwithstanding the unfairness of the law, I am finding in my pro-se mediation practice that folks frequently want the younger children to have the same benefits as the older children had during the marriage! And by ditching the “law,” these folks are finding solutions that the judge couldn’t order but that benefit their families and feel “fair” to both parties. I’ve learned a lot from them! By the way, once the judge approves an agreement that includes things the judge couldn’t order by law, that agreement then becomes an enforceable court order.

So – some remedies might be as follows:

1. Award rehabilitation maintenance or alimony that is equal to the number of years a parent stayed home for the purpose of care-giving (regardless of whether there are still children to care for).

2. Award rehabilitation maintenance or alimony in order to equalize household incomes until the lower income parent accomplishes some educational goal, such as college and law school (something comparable to the other parent’s educational or career level). Limit this payment to the number of years the parent stayed home. Require the lower income parent to attend school or work full-time unless children are under the age of 6.

Put your thinking caps on! Can you think of other ideas that would protect the children of stay-at-home parents in the event of a divorce? Please share!

It is my hope that a grass-roots push on our State Legislators might make a difference in the lives of future generations.
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