A commonly repeated myth in the divorce community is that women suffer far worse financially than men after divorce. Often using outdated data or studies based on mathematical errors, you can still find so-called “experts” claiming that after divorce, women suffer a 45% decrease in their standard of living while men experience a 15% increase. Setting aside the leap in logic one would have to make to show how a man, who most often loses at least half of the marital assets, along with having to pay alimony and child support, could ever have an increase in standard of living post-divorce, this falsely but widely-reported reported disparity in financial well-being after divorce has been debunked by mensnewsdaily.com and, more recently, a Pew survey showing that women actually fare better than men after a divorce.
Both Parties to a Divorce Suffer Financially
Any time two people who share assets and income are forced to live off of a portion of those assets and income, as always happens in divorce, both parties are financially worse off. Add to this the fact that divorce eliminates the financial benefits of cohabitation — shared mortgage/rent, utilities, food expenses, etc. — and both husband and wife face the double-whammy of an increase in cost of living coupled with a decrease in income. How a man’s standard of living supposedly increases under these circumstances would only be possible if one assumes a huge increase in standard of living due to no longer having to reside with a wife and children.
If the Wife Earned Less Before the Divorce, She Should Be Worse Off After the Divorce
Although this trend is slowly changing, for the time being wives, on average, earn less money than their husbands. It only makes sense that after divorce, the now ex-wives would continue to earn less. That should not be the husband’s problem. Why should he continue to support her financially in the “lifestyle to which she’s grown accustomed”, when she no longer provides the services to the man (emotional support, sex, housework) which earned her that lifestyle?
I am not unsympathetic to women who helped “put their husbands through school” at the cost of their own career goals, but let’s be honest — how often does that happen in modern times? In those cases, a certain period of rehabilitative alimony would not be unreasonable, as long as it bears a reasonable relationship to the financial cost of the actual sacrifice made. In other words, it should be based on her lost earnings and earning potential. It should not be based on the success of the man for whom the sacrifice was made. This “success penalty” applied to the man is how divorcing women can obtain a financial windfall through divorce.
It is unfair to give the wife undue credit for all of the future financial success of the husband when all she did was pay his bills while he was in school. This sacrifice should not entitle her to take equal credit (and profit) for all the hard work and entrepreneurship he employed to become a success; nor should it allow her to garnish his earnings in perpetuity, especially if she never pursued her career goals after his schooling was completed. A wife who supports her husband temporarily with the idea of him supporting her indefinitely thereafter, even if the marriage fails, is not something which divorce should promote.
The Value of Child Care and Housework
I am less sympathetic to divorcing women who earn less than their husbands due to the decision to be a “stay at home mom,” especially those who continue to stay at home after their children reach school age. With the way women climb onto their crosses at the mention of the burdens of child rearing (no, “stay at home mom” is not the hardest job in the world — just watch Deadliest Catch to dispel that myth) it’s a wonder that so many women make this choice.
Sure, a woman who loses time from work because she and her husband decided that she should stay home to care for young children should receive compensation in the divorce for forgone career opportunities. But let’s not get crazy when calculating the value of those lost opportunities. Did she give up a chance at a lucrative six figure career, or did she give up punching the clock at a low paying dead-end job?
The amount of alimony to compensate the stay at home moms should not assume that raising children (most often referred to as “raising his children” whenever discussing alimony) is an invaluable service. To be fair, the economic value of a stay at home mom could be calculated using the cost of day care (and maid and cooking services, if they were performed entirely by the woman as well). As with the woman who “put her husband through school” the stay at home mom’s compensation should bear a reasonable relationship to her economic sacrifice, not the husband’s economic success. The myth that the wife’s role as primary caretaker of the children somehow caused the husband’s economic success is one more factor which leads to women receiving financial windfalls in a divorce. By this logic, any person providing a free long term service for the husband (say, his parents or his friends) should be legally entitled to a piece of his earnings.
If Women Are So Much Worse Off After Divorce, Why Do Women Initiate Divorce Far More Often Than Men?
A conservative estimate is that women initiate divorce twice as often as men (other studies put that figure at 75% or higher). So, if divorce is such a bad financial deal for women, why are they so much more likely than men to pull the trigger?
Before you start spouting nonsense about how men are cheaters and physical abusers, know that these reasons are cited by only about 16% of women initiating divorce (as an aside, women cheat at almost the same rate as men, so let’s dispense with that myth as well). The vast majority of women file for divorce over more nebulous emotional reasons, such as “growing apart” or the husband being emotionally distant. In other words, women don’t typically flee from marriages to escape an imminent danger or due to a sudden, intolerable act by the husband. Rather, they most often leave under non-emergent circumstances which allow them time to plan their exit well in advance.
Given that most women have time to reflect on the financial consequences of their divorce, and that their home situations are more likely to be merely unsatisfying, rather than abusive, why would they decide to divorce in such higher numbers than men? Surely there are just as many men in troubled marriages who choose not to get divorced (until the choice is made for them).
Could it be that women really don’t view divorce as economically distasteful and harmful as men do? If so, I wonder why that is? Could it be that no one really believes that women get the financial short end of the stick in most divorces?