Divorce is a Special Challenge for Stay-at-Home Dads

Unemployment is the number one predictor of divorce for men, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Sociology. Even when unhappiness infiltrates a relationship, unemployment appears to be the biggest factor pushing men to end a marriage, and a husband’s unemployment also increases the chances that his wife will leave him.

Shifting roles in marriage now push many more women into the position of breadwinner, and this routine may create difficulties if the marriage ends. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 189,000 fathers stayed at home with children while their wives worked in 2012. ┬áSome stay-at-home dads have questions about what happens in this routine if the marriage goes under. Some experts believe the role reversal upsets the traditional routine (the man is the provider, the woman is the caregiver) so much that it may significantly undermine a man’s self-esteem, leading to depression or tension within the marriage. The stay-at-home dad may be affected enough by social stigma that he leaves the marriage to maintain a sense of male pride.

A study at Boston College found that many stay-at-home fathers worry about how others perceive them. The survey asked the men how they respond when they meet new people who ask what they do for a living. Most said they were stay-at-home fathers. Some said they would answer the question with what they used to do and add that they are home with the children for a time.

In the new regimen, the stay-at-home dad faces the same financial disadvantages faced by the stay-at-home mom. The disparity between the financial resources of a working wife and a stay-at-home dad put a divorcing husband at a significant disadvantage.
And after a divorce, if a husband is entitled to spousal support from the wife, most jurisdictions limit the duration of alimony payments. Moreover, the judge may decide the husband is able-bodied, skilled and has no need for financial support. Unfortunately, the longer a man has been at home with the kids, the bigger the gaps on his resume and the harder it will likely be to secure employment.

In addition, fathers also often face an uphill battle when it comes to custody. Even if the father was the primary caregiver, it may be hard to overcome the long-held presumption that children are best left in the care of the mother. While this mentality is changing, progress is slow and some stay-at-home dads may face difficulty obtaining primary custody.

Stay-at-home dads are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to divorcing; not only because of gender biases but also because of unequal financial resources. Because divorce affects both family and finances it is important to have the best representation possible.
In general, fathers stay at home with the children because they like the idea of a parent at home with the children, particularly when the father makes less money, according to Prof. Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. In most cases, Harrington said, the mothers made significantly more money or had the potential to make more money than the fathers.

In the Boston College study, the wives of stay-at-home fathers were ambitious, well-educated professional women who supported their stay-at-home dads, and in all cases except one, the women expressed gratitude for having one parent at home. They said their own careers could flourish because of it.

One stay-at-home dad said he feels isolated not socializing with other adults much during the day. According to the Boston College study, this is a common sentiment. There are plenty of play groups for at-home moms and their children, but few for fathers. And fathers who have attended playgroups often did not feel welcome. One father was even told that the bylaws said men were not allowed.


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