Q. I have been married for 24 years and have 6 kids (ages 9 to 19). I have always been a stay at home mom and have few work skills and little education. I am thinking about getting a job that pays minimum wage, but I am afraid that if I do, a judge will say I can support our kids and myself and I will not receive any spousal support. Will getting a job now hurt my chances of receiving spousal support? Is it better to wait to get a job until after I file for a divorce?
A. Your first step is to assess whether you want to remain in the marriage. If so, get marriage counseling for yourself and your spouse immediately.
Dr. John Gottman, at the Gottman Institute in Seattle, Washington, whom I believe to be one of the best in the business, offers weekend seminars for couples and provides a list of trained therapists throughout the country who may be able to help.
If staying in the marriage is not possible, move to Plan B: assess your assets, debts and employment skills, in order to develop a sound strategy for supporting yourself and your children in your post-divorce life.
Often I will involve a financial planner and a vocational consultant for a limited set of services to help get focus in these important areas.
Since you have been a full time mom for many years, I would send you to see a vocational consultant, who would work with you to assess your interests and skills, and then help you develop reasonable employment options. The vocational consultant might also suggest a training course to help you qualify for more than a minimum wage position.
I would not recommend that you simply get a minimum wage job right away, because I would like for you to aim higher than that, and you need to do that now, while you have the opportunity for some transition help from your husband. You certainly deserve that after having spent the equivalent of one career serving as a full time homemaker and child-raising expert!
When should you begin these steps?
The sooner the better. Your husband may even welcome your efforts, recognizing that you are taking steps that will ultimately be helpful to him, since it will reduce your economic dependence on him and help you to contribute to the support of the children. It is not unusual for a husband to agree to pay for a training course and a period of spousal support with a review at a certain time.
In mediation and collaborative divorce, professionals working with husbands help them move past feelings of discomfort and see the advantages of arrangements that enhance the economic stability of the family as a whole.
In California, family law judges are empowered to make orders for employment rehabilitation for stay at home spouses, including training fees, spousal support and an allowance for child care that is made necessary by a mother’s return to the work force. Here, work with a vocational consultant is crucial, because it provides a practical and responsible approach to the situation, supported by an expert in the field.
As always, consider initiating your divorce with non-adversarial divorce processes like mediation and collaborative divorce, which can provide crucial professional help and make the transition much smoother and healthier for all.
Guest Author Donna Beck Weaver is a Certified Specialist in Family Law, State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization with 30 years of experience. Ms. Weaver is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association (LACFLA), a Board member of the International Academy of Collaborative Practitioners (IACP) and a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). Ms. Weaver was named a Super-Lawyer of Southern California for the past two years and her practice is located in Santa Monica, California.