Preparing for divorce as a stay at home parent can be daunting. Most people don’t realize this until divorce proceedings begin. From navigating the parenting plan, to establishing a parenting plan, to spousal maintenance and going back to work, here’s how to prepare for divorce as stay at home parent.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be legal advice. You can contact the Arizona Legal Center today to learn more about your rights in your situation. Note that when you first contact the Arizona Legal Center, a law student (and not a practicing attorney) will handle your intake.
The unique challenges facing stay at home parents who want a divorce
Stay at home parents facing divorce are in a tricky position. Maybe they have paused their career or put their education on hold to support their spouse and raise the children. After a divorce, they could be left with no education and a big gap in their resumé. Further, maybe they haven’t participated in the family’s financial plan and aren’t as familiar with how to handle money or a budget.
According to Pew Research data, one in five parents in the United States stays at home. Around 11 million U.S. parents in 2016 were not working outside the home. Most stay at home parents are women, but dads stay home, too, and the percentage of dads who don’t work outside the home is growing.
Regardless of gender, figuring out how to afford life before, during, and after divorce can be hard. Many stay at home parents find little sympathy or support for their situation. But there is hope. Keep reading.
Where to get started with divorce as a stay at home parent
Sometimes taking the first step is the hardest part. Here’s how to prepare for divorce as a stay at home parent.
Step 1: Gather your paperwork
If you have been out of the workforce raising children and caring for the home, it is important that you are able to show that. Find things like W2s and tax returns, paystubs, bank statements, and insurance policies that demonstrate that your role was to care for the home rather than to work outside of it. You will also need loan or mortgage papers and details of any investment accounts (if any).
If possible, begin to also set aside money for yourself. In some cases, stay at home parents are surprised to find that the joint checking account has been emptied and they are left penniless. Don’t let this happen to you.
Step 2: Start a budget and financial plan
This means taking a hard look at what comes in and what goes out. This can also help with division of any assets and determining child support and spousal maintenance. The reality is that a stay at home parent may need to consider returning to work, depending on projected financial shortfalls.
For stay at home parents who are not usually in charge of budgeting, this can be challenging. A personal budget looks at fixed expenses and balances those with money coming in. There are many tutorials on how to create a budget. Take the time to review your financial situation to plan ahead.
Step 3: Undertake the divorce process
There are multiple forms that must be filed to initiate a divorce. For example, when children are involved in divorce, a parenting plan must be attached to the divorce petition. This outlines parenting time and legal decision-making responsibilities. This will be crucial in terms of planning for your future after the divorce is complete.
This can be a complex process, so it’s always best to work with a family law attorney or a free legal aid center for help. You can also find the Maricopa County self-service family law forms here.
The basics of spousal maintenance in Arizona
Arizona courts do not automatically award spousal maintenance to stay at home parents. According to A.R.S. §25-319, spousal maintenance may be awarded if the spouse requesting support:
- Does not have sufficient property to meet their needs
- Cannot become self-sufficient with employment or is the custodial parent of a child that prevents them from gaining adequate employment
- Has made a significant contribution to the education or training of the other spouse
- Has been married for so long that their age prevents them from gaining adequate employment
- Reduced their own income to help the other spouse in their work
Additionally, spousal maintenance does not generally last forever. A judge will consider many factors when determining Arizona spousal maintenance, including:
- Length of marriage and standard of living
- The resources of each spouse (including the ability to meet spousal maintenance requirements or secure adequate employment)
- Contributions of the spouse seeking maintenance to the other spouse’s career, training, and education
- Time needed for the spouse seeking maintenance to re-establish financial security
The judge will take these and other factors into consideration before awarding spousal maintenance in Arizona and determining the length of time it will last.
In reality, stay at home parents will most likely need to seek employment at some point, especially if the children are older.
Entering the workforce can be challenging after staying at home for many years. The gaps in your resumé can seem hard to overcome. While it can be difficult, especially if you care for the children most of the time, returning to work can be a valuable step in the process. Every situation is unique, and it is important to consult with a lawyer to find out what your best options are.
While it is possible to file for divorce without a lawyer, navigating the process can be stressful, especially if you are dealing with complicating factors. An uncooperative spouse or domestic violence situation can make you feel even more unsafe and uncertain as you move through this transition.
If you are in a domestic violence situation and need to leave your home quickly, the domestic violence program from the Arizona Department of Economic Security has valuable resources for emergency shelter and protection. Contact them to get yourself safe before you proceed with a divorce.
When it’s time, looking for free or affordable divorce help is the next priority. The Arizona Legal Center offers free and low-cost legal services to people with financial difficulties. We can help you figure out how to prepare for divorce as a stay at home parent.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help!
Disclaimer: The Arizona Legal Center provides free legal aid and consultations in Arizona only. We provide low-cost access to fee-for-service cases when determined appropriate by an attorney at the Center, but generally do not undertake full-scope representation.