Equitable distribution is sometimes unfair to stay-at-home moms

Michigan law states that marital property should be divided equitably but not necessarily equally in divorce cases. However, what is and is not equitable is often a matter of contentious debate. While states with community property laws require an equal division of marital estates regardless of whether spouses worked, how much they earned or how long they were married, the equitable distribution laws in states like Michigan sometimes leave divorcing mothers who eschewed careers to raise children at a disadvantage.

The opportunities available to women who venture out into the workplace have improved significantly in recent decades, but one in four American mothers still chooses to stay home with her children rather than pursue a career. This adherence to a traditional gender role may be lauded by some, but researchers have discovered that it often leads to less generous property division settlements and lower spousal support awards when stay-at-home mothers divorce. Experts believe that this is because even many family law judges still view breadwinners as being more valuable than homemakers.

The road can be particularly grim for older mothers with adult children who divorce after decades of marriage. These women are sometimes seen as having outlived their usefulness and who should be happy with any support they receive from their former husbands. While community property laws are often criticized for being overly rigid, they generally treat stay-at-home mothers far more fairly.

Experienced family law attorneys may be aware that judges are sometimes swayed by views that were once considered mainstream and acceptable, and they may seek to avoid the risks of seeking a court-ordered settlement by resolving divorce cases involving stay-at-home mothers at the negotiating table. Lawyers could also suggest that mothers who plan to sacrifice their careers to better care for their children consider drafting a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that protects their interests in the event of divorce.

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