A Divorce Guide for Stay-at-Home Parents in California

A Divorce Guide for Stay-at-Home Parents in California Parents who set aside their career goals and sacrificed professional opportunities to focus on raising their children face unique challenges when divorcing in California. One of the biggest problems is the uncertainty. If you are a stay-at-home parent contemplating divorce, you may be wondering if you will get custody and how you will support yourself. You probably have questions about child support and alimony. You might also be concerned about paying legal fees and living expenses during the divorce process. While only your attorney can provide the most complete answers related to your specific situation, at Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, our team has over 300 years of collective experience overcoming challenges in divorce, and we can offer some general information to consider as you begin the process.

You Need to Understand Your Legal Rights

California law allows and even encourages divorcing couples to develop their own arrangements to guide their lives after the divorce. This includes critical issues where you need to consider both the big picture and the smallest details. For instance, with custody, you will not only need to consider what percentage of time a child will spend with each parent, but also where the child will spend holidays, school vacations, and special days such as birthdays. For all of these issues, it is important for you to understand your rights as a parent and as a spouse before you agree to arrangements in a separation agreement or divorce settlement. You might decide to compromise and not enforce your rights to the full extent, but you can negotiate the best agreement from a position of confidence when you understand your rights and how a court would rule on the issues if you took the matter to a judge. Working with an experienced divorce attorney is usually the most effective means of gaining that understanding because you can ask questions that apply the law to the specifics of your situation.

Divorce Can Be Handled in Different Ways

Traditionally, parties who were divorcing presented all the issues to a judge and the court issued a ruling setting all the terms based on the judge’s decision. However, now divorcing couples can choose a different approach. You can work with a mediator who can help you negotiate to find solutions you can both accept. You might each work with a collaborative divorce attorney who negotiates to find mutually beneficial solutions on your behalf. Sometimes, your legal team can help you negotiate agreements on some issues but not others, and then you need to ask a judge to decide only those issues of contention. While developing arrangements out of court is the most economical approach and allows you to retain the most control over the outcome, when you are dealing with a spouse who is not willing to negotiate, sometimes litigation offers the only path to protect your rights.

Both Parents Have a Financial Obligation to Support Their Children

California law requires both parents to support their children financially. This means that it may not be possible for a stay-at-home parent to continue to remain at home full time after a divorce. A court would consider what a stay-at-home parent could be earning if they were working. That amount might be higher for someone who held a professional job and has only been out of the workforce for a few years and lower for someone who never went to college and has been out of the workforce for more than a decade. A stay-at-home parent is not likely to be required to pay child support to the other parent, but the amount a stay-at-home-parent could be earning may be factored into the determination of that parent’s support obligation and decrease the amount they would receive from the other parent.

Custody Decisions Take the Caregiver Role into Consideration

Parents who have been at home with their children do not automatically receive full custody of their children, but their role as a caregiver will weigh in their favor. Courts make custody decisions based on the best interests of the child and they want children to maintain a relationship with both parents. In many cases, courts give parents joint legal custody of their children so that both parents have an equal voice regarding life decisions such as where their child will go to school or what kinds of medical treatment their child will receive. With regard to physical custody, which involves the child’s living arrangements, if parents cannot develop their own plan, the court may order shared custody if the parent who has not been home with the child full time can show why shared custody is in the child’s best interests. A stay-at-home parent should be prepared to demonstrate multiple reasons to support their custody goals. The role as a caregiver is important, but continued access to friends and family, a stable home, and many other factors also play a part in the consideration.

Stay-at-Home Parents May or May Not Receive Alimony

While child support is expected in divorce, alimony is optional. A spouse who wants alimony must prove that they need support and that the other spouse has the ability to pay support. A court might order temporary support while the divorce process is ongoing, and the court can also order the working spouse to pay the legal fees of the stay-at-home spouse. But decisions based on long-term alimony to be paid after the divorce is finalized will be based on a separate consideration based on earning capacity, time out of the workforce, child care obligations, age and health of both spouses, and the duration of the marriage. If support is ordered, it often lasts for half the duration of the marriage for shorter marriages, which are those under ten years. For longer marriages, there is no assumption about the duration of alimony, so it is based on the needs and abilities demonstrated by each party. In most cases, California law expects spouses to become self-supporting eventually, even if they have been stay-at-home parents for some time.

Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC Protects Stay-at-Home Parents in California Divorce

Parents who have devoted their lives to caring for their children often face an uphill battle during and after divorce in California. At Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, our Certified Family Law Specialists and associates understand how to effectively protect the interests of stay-at-home parents and we work to ensure that they receive the support they need to move forward after the divorce. To find out how we can help you obtain the most advantageous arrangements in divorce, schedule a confidential consultation with one of our family law attorneys.