I’ll just say it: I am not cut out to be a stay at home mom. I love my kids, but they drive me crazy, too! Sometimes, I find that I am literally counting down the hours until Monday just so that I can get a little break.
If you’re a stay at home mom, my hat is off to you. You do some of the world’s hardest work, day in and day out. It’s mind numbing, sometimes. Sure, it’s also the most rewarding thing in the entire universe, and those little people we’re raising are such precious little voices in a world full of craziness. It’s terrible, it’s wonderful – but it’s such hard work.
Whether married or not, many women find themselves, for one reason or another, making the choice not to go back to work. Raising these little people is big, important work – you’re not the first woman (or the last) to make the choice that this is the highest and best use of your time. If you’re not married, though, at least in a family law context, it creates a complicated web of related issues when the relationship between you and your child’s father doesn’t work out.
Obviously, if you’ve been a stay at home mom, you don’t have a separate, independent source of income – unless, of course, you’ve got a trust fund or inheritance or some other kind of access to separate money that most of us mere mortals aren’t lucky enough to possess. (You don’t? Yeah, me either and, frankly, more’s the pity.) That’s a problem in a separation context, because what will you do to support yourself? It becomes an issue pretty quickly. Let’s talk about the options.
Spousal support is exactly what it sounds like – support (as in, financial) that one spouse pays to another. If you’re not married, I’m sorry to say, but you don’t qualify to receive spousal support, even if you’ve been a stay at home mom.
It’s not motherhood that makes the difference – it’s marriage. I know, I know – that’s super, duper unfair. But marriage is designed, legally, to provide protection in exactly this kind of scenario.
The court simply does not have the authority to award you spousal support under the law.
What kind of support CAN I receive?
If you’ve got children in common, the only kind of legal support you’ll be entitled to receive is child support. Child support in Virginia is based on a formula, and it’s binding on our courts. So, that’s pretty nice – there’s not a whole lot of argument that can take place about how much child support should be awarded. To generate its calculation, the formula includes the income of both parties, any support paid to children from other relationships, whatever you pay for work related child care, and the cost of health insurance premiums for the children only.
Your custodial arrangement matters, too. If he has shared physical custody – meaning 90 or more days in a calendar year with the children – he’ll have to pay less in child support. He may fight you for a custodial arrangement like that just so that he has to pay less in child support each month.
Will he win? Well, it depends on the merits of your case and what specific factors are involved – but, in general, I see a lot of courts leaning towards shared custody relationships lately. Why? Because, in Virginia, everything related to children (child custody, support, and visitation) is based on the ten best interests of the child factors. Judges really think that having both parents involved to the greatest degree possible is what’s in a child’s best interests.
The fact that you’ve stayed at home prior to this point will be evidence we can introduce, but I don’t think that it’s enough that the court will continue to keep it that way, or to minimize dad’s involvement. Even if he hasn’t done any of the work related to the children, in general, the court will give him the opportunity to do so. That doesn’t mean you’ll LOSE your case or you’ll lose custody – it just means you’ll share custody. As far as the court is concerned, that’s a win-win.
As far as you’re concerned, from a financial standpoint, it may feel like a loss.
What about his other assets?
It can get really complicated with other assets. You’re not entitled to a portion of any retirement he has earned if you’re not married. Likewise, if the house is his (as in, it’s his name on it and he has made the payments during your relationship), it’s still his – he can kick you out eventually, though probably not immediately.
Even if you’ve paid towards the house, it may be hard for you to prove it or to get any kind of credit for it. That’s not even a family law issue! If you’re not married, there’s nothing in a divorce, separation, or custody context that we can do to help you. I know – awful, right?
You’re in a pretty precarious position, as you’re probably already aware. There’s often not a ton we can do, other than whatever we need to in order to resolve the custody, visitation, and child support issues. If you’re not married, you can break up willy nilly, and without a whole lot of consequences on either end. That’s good, if you’re the higher wage earner, but not so good if you’re a stay at home mom.
You’ll want to talk to someone as quickly as possible to get an idea of any options that may be available to you. Give our office a call at 757-425-5200 to discuss your options with one of our licensed, experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys.