Divorce can be financially and emotionally devastating for anyone, but it can be particularly difficult for parents who have stayed at home to raise their children. While women have historically been the spouses who stay at home to raise children and maintain the house, stay-at-home dads have become increasingly common. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or dad facing divorce, you are likely understandably worried about your finances, your ability to maintain your lifestyle in the future, and your children's well-being.
If you've been served with divorce papers or want to file divorce papers yourself as a stay-at-home parent, getting legal help from a competent divorce lawyer in New Jersey at Ziegler Law Group, LLC is a good idea. An attorney can provide guidance to you about the process and zealously advocate for you to protect your financial interests and the best interests of your children. In this guide, we'll talk about preparing for a divorce as a stay-at-home parent and some things you should understand about what might happen.
How is Divorce Different for a Stay-at-Home Parent?
Many couples agree for one parent to stay at home to raise their children while the other parent works. Typically, the parent who agrees to stay at home is the lower-earning spouse. Agreeing to stay at home to raise your children helps to save money and childcare expenses and before and after school programs. Being a stay-at-home dad or mom also provides emotional benefits as you care for your children and build strong relationships with each other.
When a stay-at-home parent goes through a divorce, a lot more might be at stake than people who have remained in the workforce during their marriage. Stay-at-home parents are typically completely dependent on their spouses' income and may have been out of the workforce for years. They might have few work skills and require education or training before they can become self-sufficient. In some cases, a stay-at-home mom or dad may have spent many years remaining at home and be asked for a divorce when they are near retirement or have already retired.
Stay-at-home parents will have to start over following their divorces, and they will likely have to downsize and make lifestyle adjustments. Most stay-at-home parents will have to either enter the workforce for the first time or re-enter it after a years-long absence. Even if a stay-at-home mom or dad has a degree and held a professional position before deciding to stay at home to raise their children, they might be forced to start over on the career ladder and take a much lower-paying position when they return.
In many cases, people who were stay-at-home parents while married will also encounter difficulties with receiving the agreed-upon child support and alimony payments from their former spouse. Stay-at-home parents are at a financial disadvantage from the start of their divorce cases. It's important to retain an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer if you are a stay-at-home parent who has received divorce paperwork from your spouse to protect your rights and interests.
How to Prepare for the Divorce Process
If you believe your spouse is planning to ask for a divorce, you have already been served with divorce paperwork, or you want to get divorced, it's important for you to take immediate proactive measures to protect yourself. Good preparation can help avoid problems that might otherwise arise as your divorce proceeds. Take the following steps to protect yourself in divorce as a stay-at-home parent:
1. Gather Financial Documents
If divorce paperwork hasn't been filed yet, but you know a divorce is coming, gather as much financial documentation as you can now. While both you and your spouse will be required to make financial disclosures after the case is filed, it's much easier to get the information before the divorce petition is filed than trying to get documents from your estranged spouse while the case is pending.
Gather and copy the following documents:
- Deeds to real property
- Titles to all vehicles
- Most recent bill statements from credit cards, auto loans, mortgage, personal loans, medical bills, and others
- Up-to-date credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) for both you and your spouse
- Bank account statements for all checking and savings accounts from the previous 12 months
- Your spouse's W-2s
- Business profit-and-loss statements if your spouse owns a business
- Inventory of all of your assets
- Your spouse's most recent retirement account statement
- A current investment account statement
- Valuations of valuable collections (art, coins, jewelry, etc.)
Take copies of all of these documents, and store them somewhere safe away from your house. If you have retained a lawyer, the Ziegler Law Group can store your financial documents in your legal file.
If you've allowed your spouse to take care of the finances, now is a good time for you to get up-to-date with your complete financial picture. Review your credit reports and those of your spouse to look for any debts you weren't aware of. Look at your spouse's income statements and compare them with your bank account so you know how much your family has had coming in and going out. Not knowing your finances can hinder your ability to ensure you get what you rightfully deserve in your divorce.
2. Consult a Reputable Family Law or Divorce Attorney
Don't make the mistake of trying to handle your divorce without an attorney just because you have been a stay-at-home parent without an income. Trying to represent yourself can place you at a significant disadvantage when trying to negotiate a divorce settlement for property division, child custody, child support, and alimony. Consult an experienced divorce lawyer for a stay at home mom divorce in NJ.
A lawyer can help you understand your rights and devise a strategy to ensure your interests are protected. In many cases, it's possible for stay-at-home parents to ask for an order from the court for their spouses to cover their legal expenses and attorney's fees. A lawyer at Ziegler Law Group, LLC can discuss this with you.
3. Understand NJ Divorce Laws and Processes
New Jersey divorces involve complex laws and legal processes. To protect your rights, it's important to familiarize yourself with the laws about property division, child custody, child support, and alimony. New Jersey is an equitable distribution state for the division of marital property and debts. If you and your spouse take your case to trial, the judge will order a fair division of your assets and debts, which doesn't necessarily mean that the division will be equal.
Under the law, the assets owned by you and your spouse will be deemed as separate or marital property. Separate property includes the assets you or your spouse owned before the marriage. It also includes any gifts or inheritances you might have received during the marriage as long as you didn't commingle the funds with marital assets. Separate property will not be divided in your divorce and will instead stay with the spouse who owns it.
Your marital assets and debts will be divided, however, including increases in the value of a business, your spouse's retirement account contributions, stock options, your marital home, and other assets you have accumulated during your marriage. Similarly, debts you and your spouse accumulated during your marriage will also be divided in a way the court views as fair.
If you and your spouse signed a prenuptial agreement, the court will likely follow it. However, if you signed the agreement under duress or coercion, or your spouse fraudulently failed to disclose all of their assets and debts to you before you signed, you can challenge the prenuptial agreement. It is best to have a divorce lawyer in New Jersey review any prenuptial agreement you signed and determine whether you might be able to challenge it.
For child custody matters, courts make decisions in the best interests of children rather than in either parent's interest. In most cases, courts will award joint custody of the children with liberal parenting time for each parent. Unless your children would be in danger while in your spouse's custody, you should anticipate the court will likely order some type of joint legal and residential custody.
New Jersey courts expect both parents to financially contribute to raising their children and will order child support payments. Typically, these payments are paid to the parent with primary residential custody by the other parent. Child support payments are meant to provide the children with a similar lifestyle to what they enjoyed while their parents remained together and are calculated based on multiple factors. Courts typically use the child support guidelines to determine how much the child support payments should be.
You can request alimony when you file for divorce or file your response to your spouse's divorce petition. Keep in mind that alimony is not guaranteed, and there are several different types. At the beginning of your case, you should request temporary alimony and child support to last while your divorce is pending. Temporary child and spousal support will continue until your final divorce decree and orders are issued at the end of your case.
There are numerous procedural requirements you'll need to know, and this brief discussion of some of the laws is only a general overview. Because of the complexities involved in divorce cases, it is critical for you to retain an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer for guidance throughout your case.
Alimony and Child Support Considerations
It's important to note that any alimony and child support you might receive likely will not be enough to support you following your divorce. Alimony also likely won't last forever. If you were married for less than 20 years, any alimony that might be ordered in your case can only last as long as your marriage did.
Child support typically is ordered in the guideline amounts based on both your income and that of your former spouse, the number of nights each of you have with your children, the total number of children your spouse pays to support (including children from other relationships), the payment of medical insurance premiums for your children, and other factors.
If you reach an agreement for alimony and child support with your spouse, it's important to take steps to ensure you receive your agreed-upon payments. Many parents do not receive the child support and alimony they are supposed to receive after their divorce cases. To reduce our risks, ask for a wage assignment order, and make sure any agreement for child support and alimony is reduced to a support order to prevent your spouse from discharging them in bankruptcy.
Consider asking for your spouse to take out a life insurance policy payable to you to ensure you will continue to receive support if something happens to your spouse, and make sure you have an agreement for them to make the premium payments.
Protecting Your Financial Future
Trying to start over after a divorce can be especially difficult for stay-at-home parents. Since any child support and alimony you might receive will unlikely be enough to support your lifestyle, it's important for you to plan to get a job as quickly as possible. If you need additional education to secure a job that will pay a liveable wage, enroll in college and start working towards your degree.
Once you do have a job, make sure to make regular contributions to your 401(k) account to save for retirement. You might need to make up for lost time by making larger retirement contributions than you would have made if you were still married, but this can help you build a stronger future for yourself in your golden years. If you were married for 10 or more years, you might also be eligible for derivative Social Security retirement benefits based on your former spouse's earnings record without affecting how much they receive.
Consult a Divorce Lawyer in New Jersey
Going through a divorce as a stay-at-home parent can be scary. You might not know what your future will be and may be concerned about whether you will find a job paying enough money to make ends meet. If you are preparing to get divorced, you should reach out to the skilled attorneys at Ziegler Law Group, LLC. Call us to schedule a consultation today at (973) 533-1100.
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