But I’m the Breadwinner: Divorce when the Wife Earns More Money

Posted on Aug 2, 2013 by Katie Carter

I see cases more and more frequently where the wives are earning more than their husbands. It makes sense, after all, because they say that more women graduate college and apply to law school than men. However, despite our creativity and general brilliance, we have significant biological disadvantages that make it more difficult for us to get a high-profile, high-paying job than our male counterparts. There is not equality of opportunity quite yet, but I do see more and more extremely successful women in my practice.

First of all, let me just say: ladies, rock on.

Second, though, I want to discuss something a little more sobering: in divorce, success has a way of seeming like a disadvantage. In a marriage, the money you earn, the vacation homes your purchase, and the retirement savings you accumulate are not entirely your own, even if the only money that was put into them came directly from your paycheck.

To add insult to injury, not only will you have to divide the assets you’ve purchased, but there is also the possibility (at least, theoretically) that your husband will ask for spousal support. These days, spousal support is gender neutral, and I have seen husbands be awarded this kind of support, even though it was formerly reserved only for women. The reality, though, is that there are still far fewer men who ask for spousal support than women, but you should keep in mind that this is a possibility.

Though it probably causes you serious pain to think about signing over half of your retirement savings to your husband, the reality is that you are in a far, far better place than most women. Statistics show that after divorce, more women are living below the poverty line and can’t afford basic necessities like health insurance. Compared with the alternative, you should consider yourself lucky to at least have the tools to start over. You are employable, you are professionally desirable, and you will have a future after your divorce.

You should also remember that, as soon as you and your husband separate, you start earning separate money that he can’t get his hands on. From that point onward, anything you make, any homes you purchase, or any retirement savings you accumulate become yours and yours only—and nothing he can do will allow him to take a part in that.

Trust me, later you’ll be grateful for your professional success and your ability to earn your own separate income.