The Mommy Trap

Jack and Jill met at work and fell in love. They both were earning mid five figure salaries and on a fast track to advance with the company. Jill married Jack. The following year Jill got pregnant and within two years they had two children. Jack agreed with Jill that she should stay at home and raise their children. Three years later Jack left Jill. Jack and Jill no longer went up the hill together--Jill became a single mother with no savings, no child support and no career and her life came tumbling down.

I call this the Jack and Jill Syndrome. More than five million divorced, single-mother families live in the United States today according to the Census Bureau's 2010 Population Survey. Over half of these mothers receive no child support. Although greater than three-quarters of single-mothers work, they and millions of children as well, are living at or below the poverty level. A single-mother's money woes are actually a double whammy because she has to support herself and her children. This profoundly impacts this generation of national treasure--our children, who are among the most vulnerable.

The Jills of the world, regardless of whether they are educated and formerly held good jobs or are high school drop-outs, all suffer from society's prevailing view that raising children is not a valued occupation that carries with it an economic benefit. So what's a Jill to do?

As a lawyer who has handled matrimonial matters, (not by choice but as an accommodation to corporate clients), and prepared prenuptial agreements, it dawned on me that women could benefit from the protection afforded by a "prenup" type of agreement signed before marriage that was devised to avert the Jack and Jill outcome.

A little background might be helpful here to put prenuptial agreements in context. Historically, marriages were arranged by families who wanted to protect their inherited property that was handed down from generation to generation to the first son. The romantic notion of marriage is a relatively contemporary phenomenon which has interjected a seemingly disparate ingredient (love) that complicates the ability to reach an agreement. It is no wonder that women try to avoid any discussion of an arrangement that involves love, children, money and property concurrently. But that is exactly what they must do if they want to preserve their wellbeing and that of their future children.

I believe a newly fashioned "family-prenup" that includes compensating stay at home mothers who raise the couple's children and take care of the home and apportions the cost of providing for their children until they are 18, would produce an equitable solution. Three primary subjects need to be settled and documented to start the ball rolling:

Discuss money, property and children. Mothers need to encourage their daughters to initiate a serious discussion with their future husbands prior to the marriage and urge them to resolve all of the important money, property and child rearing issues--culminating in a signed agreement--before they walk down the aisle. This course of action is critical because once the romance fades all of a bride's leverage evaporates.

Thrash out every "what if" about raising children. A young couple just starting out is inclined to discount the importance of talking about what if's involving children that they may have someday in the future. This, more times than not, is a fatal mistake, evidenced by the staggering number of single-mothers who are the sole providers for their children. The future bride and groom should make a list of all the "child issues" and reach an agreement as to how the costs and household duties should be shared.

Advance the concept of "One Financial Pot" With Shared Money Management. Money matters are one of the thorniest topics for couples to discuss, but it is much easier to talk about finances when you are young, in lust, have few assets and are both working. This is the only time that this discussion has a possibility of leading to a satisfactory arrangement. After marriage, especially when you are pregnant and planning to be a stay at home mother, it's too late! So, open up a conversation about sharing everything and putting it in a collective pot. If you are good at handling money, as many women are, suggest that you be the partner to pay all the bills. If not, work out an understanding where you share money management responsibilities.

So what happens if your intended refuses to talk about these matters? Here comes the moment of truth. Knowing what you already know about the large percentage of divorced, single-mothers who are living at or below poverty level--will you back down and leave these matters unsettled just to avoid an argument? If your answer is yes, you are likely to end up as one more Jill, who tumbled down the hill, and became a new casualty of the Jack and Jill Syndrome.

Susan T. Spencer is the author of Briefcase Essentials: Discover Your 12 Natural Talents for Achieving Success in a Male-Dominated Workplace. She is the only woman who was GM of an NFL team and an entrepreneur who successfully navigated the male-dominated world of meat processing.