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How to fairly value a spouse’s stay-at-home marital contributions

Some New Jersey readers of our family law blog are likely old enough to remember some of the vintage television shows of yesteryear that depicted American family life.

Those efforts routinely sketched families in a similar way. Dad headed out the door every weekday morning to put in a day of work at the office, while mom readied the kids for school and thereafter focused on domestic duties all day long.

She cleaned, she cooked, she ran errands. And when the children returned in the afternoon, she closely attended to a variety of their needs. Dad came home in time for dinner and perhaps tucked the kids into bed.

That is still an accurate portrayal of many American families, although things have of course changed dramatically in legions of cases over the years. Many millions of daughters whose mothers were stay-at-home moms no longer follow that pattern. Instead, they do just as their husbands do, busily pursing professional careers outside the home.

Indeed, that trend has progressively advanced over successive generations. The United States of today has a quite different look than it did years back when parental gender roles were almost exclusively construed in “he’s the breadwinner, she’s the caretaker” terms. Increasingly these days, tremendous fluidity attaches to that equation. High numbers of both moms and dads now work outside, raise the kids and attack domestic responsibilities together.

Still, scores of millions of American wives/mothers do continue to assume stay-at-home caretaking roles, which can create material challenges and complications in any divorce that features property division concerns.

Most decouplings do, of course, which a recent national article notes raises this central question targeting equitable asset division: “Should the caretaking that stay-at-home moms do be valued as equal to the breadwinning of their husbands?”

We’ll address that topic in some detail in our next blog post.