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Is motherhood valued fairly in divorce?

Is motherhood valued fairly in divorce?

In Michigan divorces, each spouse’s contributions to the marital estate is considered when determining how to divide marital property equitably. It is often emphasized that this does not refer solely to financial contributions. If one spouse stayed home to care for children and handled the bulk of the house chores, those contributions are taken into account.

Should the caretaking that a stay-at-home mom does be valued equally to the breadwinning of a husband? Two female Vanderbilt law professors conducted a study of more than 3,000 men and women to gauge their thoughts on how a stay-at-home mom’s contribution should be valued in divorce.

The scenario

The participants were presented with a fictitious couple that married after three years of dating. Both parties continued to work for five years after the marriage until the woman left her job to care for the couple’s three children. She never returned to work. After 17 years of marriage, the husband filed for divorce.

From there, the study participants were given one of six different sets of facts, with variations in each spouse’s education levels, occupations and how much property they had accumulated.

How study participants responded

According to the study’s authors, non-working spouses seldom receive over 50% of the marital assets. Often, the non-working spouse receives significantly less than half of the marital property.

Nearly 10% of women who completed the study awarded the stay-at-home mom more than half of the couple’s assets. Just under 6% of men awarded the mother more than half. The study’s authors expressed surprise at how few of the female participants were willing to award the mother more than half of the marital assets.

The takeaway

The authors conclude that “equitable division regimes are far more generous to men than to women, despite a guiding principle of fairness.” They suggest one solution to make things more equitable for women is to instruct legal decisionmakers to begin with the presumption that wives are entitled to at least half of a divorcing couple’s assets.

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