As a working mother as well as a family lawyer, I understand that the parenting responsibilities placed on a mom are often substantially different from those born by the father. While our society has mostly embraced women in the workplace, it continues to place the majority of the parenting role on the mothers. This is particularly true after a divorce, making it essential that divorcing moms get the best possible settlements for the future of their families.
I am not an advocate of arbitrarily favoring the mothers over the fathers. However, for the sake of the children, it is important to maintain as much consistency as possible by having the spouse who served as the primary parental figure during the marriage to remain in that role after the divorce has been finalized. And as such, they should receive the resources necessary to meet their parenting duties.
This should be the case regardless of the gender of the parent receiving child support (and who has the child the majority of the time).
Below are some general answers to the top three questions that I have received from parents who expect to become the primary caretaker of the children after a divorce. This list neither constitutes nor is intended to be legal advice. Please be advised that if you need legal counsel, you should consult an attorney regarding your individual situation.
1. How do you calculate child support?
Answer: Child support is calculated using a standard formula, but every state has a slightly different approach. For example, in Texas, 1 child= 20 percent of net resources, or after-tax dollars (up to a certain cap to protect high-wage earners); 2 children = 25 percent, 3 children = 30 percent, 4 children = 35 percent, etc. This formula provides the basis, but is then affected by deductions (i.e. premiums for the children's health insurance) as well as other court orders (i.e. if the spouse already has child support for other children). Rates are higher in states like New York, and some states such as Oklahoma also factor in costs of daycare. Most states offer a Child Support Calculator on their Attorney General's Web site; for example, in Texas, there is one here.
2. Do I qualify for spousal support/maintenance?
Answer: It depends on many factors (and which state you are in). First, "spousal support" is temporary whereas "spousal maintenance" continues beyond the divorce decree. Second, in order to get awarded spousal support, you need to show financial need to cover your essentials (i.e. housing, car, utilities, insurance). To receive spousal maintenance after the divorce is final, you generally need to have been married a minimum of 10 years and you must be able to demonstrate a large disparity in income, a lack of job opportunities, and/or an absence from the job market (i.e. to be a stay-at-home parent). Maintenance generally lasts around 3 years, but in some states the laws have recently allowed the term to increase incrementally based on the length of long-term marriages (i.e. spouses who were married for 30 years can expect longer maintenance terms than those married for 10 years).
3. I want full custody -- how do I get it?
Answer: There is no such thing as "full custody." However, there is "primary conservatorship," which means that you name where your child lives for residency restrictions and you have majority access. Typically, you need to either be able to illustrate that a) you are the primary parental figure with a background showing that you prioritize your children and/or b) your spouse is unfit to be the primary conservator. On the latter, this generally requires them to have a drug/alcohol issue, a history of involvement with crime (or CPS), proven history of violence or dangerous behavior in some palpable, diagnosable way. And of course, there's always the absent parent who has moved onto a new relationship and who has no time to parent; they usually readily relinquish primary conservatorship because it is inconvenient, messy and much harder to manage than simply showing up with tickets to Six Flags or iPads and being the "fun weekend parent."