What financial rights does a stay-at-home parent have during divorce?

On Behalf of | Dec 13, 2023 | Property Division

Raising children is a very expensive and demanding endeavor. Parents commit a large portion of their income to meet the children’s needs, from healthcare costs to new clothing as they continue growing. Children need someone to get them ready for school in the morning and tuck them into bed at night. They may require adult assistance even during the work day if they get sick or get into trouble while at school. The average household will have a hard time absorbing all of those responsibilities, especially if both parents work full-time.

Some Washington families decide to have one parent stay home with the children while the other continues to work. Stay-at-home parents inevitably worry about their rights and protections if they divorce. What financial rights does a stay-at-home parent have during a Washington divorce?

They have an interest in community property

Whatever each spouse earns during the marriage will be part of the marital estate or community property under the eyes of the law. Unless the spouses signed a prenuptial agreement stating otherwise, the income and other resources acquired by each spouse during the marriage belong to both of them during the marriage and in the event of a divorce.

During a Washington divorce, the spouses will need to provide a thorough inventory of assets to one another and possibly also to the courts. In cases where spouses cannot agree on a fair and reasonable way to split their belongings, they will take the matter to court.

In litigated matters, judges look at not just what someone earned during the marriage but also their unpaid contributions to the household when making property division decisions. They will also look at the separate property of each spouse, the custody arrangements for the family the health of the spouses and the duration of the marriage. A stay-at-home parent should receive a just portion of assets despite not working. Property division proceedings can help them live independently after the divorce.

They may qualify for spousal maintenance

Every state has specific rules for spouses providing financial support during and after a divorce. In Washington, judges can order spousal maintenance, which other states may refer to as alimony. One spouse can potentially receive up to a year of support for every three to four years that the marriage lasted. Most of the time, spousal maintenance is meant to help someone become independent again whenever possible.

A combination of marital resources and spousal maintenance can help a stay-at-home parent begin living independently after ending a marriage in which they did not work. Reviewing one’s personal circumstances at length with an attorney and learning more about the law may help stay-at-home parents better evaluate their options as they prepare for divorce in Washington.