It is no secret that divorce can be a stressful and exhausting experience. As a stay-at-home parent, the thought of going through divorce may seem even more daunting. Many stay-at-home parents have given up their own careers to help further their spouse’s career growth while providing childcare and support for their children. After years of making personal sacrifices to care for your family, you might be thinking, “What am I supposed to do now?” Fortunately, the law has evolved to recognize the importance and value of a stay-at-home parent’s family contribution and will give credit where it is due. With these five helpful tips and the right legal team, going through a divorce as a stay-at-home parent does not need to be as overwhelming as it seems.
Familiarize yourself with your finances and gather financial documents
If you have not been the party managing your family’s finances, it is time to familiarize yourself with your average household, personal, and child-related expenses. This is important in helping the court understand the standard of living established during your marriage and what is financially necessary to run your household. The more financial documentation you can get to your attorney the better, and you can save money on legal expenses if you are organized! Some important documents to gather include:
- Tax returns, including all supporting schedules and W-2’s
- Banking statements
- Credit card and outstanding loan statements, including mortgage statements
- Retirement and investment account statements
- Mortgage statements
- Documentation of any pre-marital assets you may have, such as assets received through inheritance or gift
If you do not have access to your financial documents, that’s okay, too! Let your attorney know, so that a proper strategy can be put in place.
Understand Maintenance (formerly known as “Alimony”)
In Illinois, a judge can order that one spouse make payments to the other for a specific time period both during and after a divorce. These payments are called maintenance. Typically, maintenance is awarded to the spouse who earns less income, which is often the stay-at-home parent if the other parent is working. The purpose of maintenance is to help the receiving spouse support themselves independently after the marriage has been dissolved. When determining if a maintenance award is appropriate, the court will consider many factors, including but not limited to:
- The income of each party
- The ability to earn income and any potential impairment to earn income
- The time necessary to enable the party seeking maintenance to acquire appropriate education, training, and employment, and whether that party is able to support himself or herself through appropriate employment
- The effect of any parental responsibility arrangements and its effect on a party’s ability to seek or maintain employment
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- The duration of the marriage
It is important to remember that the amount and duration of any maintenance award will differ based upon the specific facts of every case.
Refresh your resume
Pull up your last resume and update it with your most recent skills. Even if you are receiving maintenance, your maintenance payments may not be enough to fully provide for your needs on a long-term basis, and reentering the workforce can offer a sense of financial security. In some instances, judges even require a stay-at-home parent to reenter the workforce when he or she has the requisite educational background or experience. If considerable time has passed since you last worked in your field, consider signing up for classes to brush up on your skills or to learn new ones and further your potential. Check out your local community colleges for more reasonably priced educational courses. If entering or reentering the workforce isn’t possible, discuss a strategy for maintenance with your attorney.
Be mindful of your children
Not only is divorce a difficult time for a stay-at-home parent, but it is also a confusing time for children. While every child can react differently, it is not uncommon for children to go through an “adjustment period” or to experience feelings of sadness, anger, or stress after learning about the divorce. Above all, be sure to reassure your children that the divorce is not their fault and that they are loved by both parents. Avoid speaking negatively about your spouse or the litigation in front of your children, as this will only hurt them in the long run. Encourage open and honest conversation with your children to validate their emotions. If possible, discuss a parenting time (visitation) plan with your spouse and stick to it so your children can find stability in their new routine. Providing your children with a loving and supportive environment will make a big difference in their ability to cope.
Take care of yourself
You will be making big decisions during your divorce and it is important to have a clear head while doing so. Make time to check in with yourself to ensure that you are both physically and mentally healthy during this process. Make a point to keep participating in the activities you love. Exercise is a great way to boost your mood if you are feeling blue, but taking a night to yourself on the couch with a glass of your favorite wine and some friends may be equally as effective! Balance is key. Take each day step by step and remember that self-care is not selfish. Never be afraid to seek out treatment from a medical professional if you are feeling overwhelmed or depressed.