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Bread-winner mom is considering divorce, but is concerned about custody chances

Your Question:
I have been living in NJ since 1998 with my husband of 9 years. We have 2 kids, ages 6 and 2. I work full-time. I commute 1 hr and 45 minutes to work and another 1 hr and 45 min home. I work an 8 hour day M-F. I am also working on an advanced degree - class is every other Saturday from 8:30 to 3 pm (6 classes total per semester). I have 9 courses left for the degree.

My husband is a stay-at-home dad and has been since my 1st child was 3 months old. He cares for the 2-year-old during the day. My son attends a full day kindergarten, then comes home to my husband.

I'm considering a divorce, but I'm not sure if I'll lose my kids because I work and my husband stays home with the kids.

I'm working so hard so my kids can have everything they need. I'm also working on an advanced degree so that I can get promoted and assist my family further. I fear that a judge will say that my husband is the primary care giver and I would only get visitation rights.

PLease let me know what your experience is in this area. Thank you.

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My Answer:

The situation you describe is unfortunately how many fathers enter divorce/separation too.

As do such fathers, you have much soul-searching to do in what you do with your marriage.

Should you decide that divorce is the only route available to you (for reasons that only you can decide, I'm sure not arbitrarily), you need to assess your goals for your post-separation life.

If you want any relationship with the kids other than the standard alternating weekends with a mid-week dinner, then you need to adjust your life immediately. You need to implement changes that are in place 6 to 12 months before a separation even happens.

Upon separation, two things can happen. The parents can work out an arrangement that is agreeable to them. Or the parents can ask a judge to make temporary orders.

When judges make their first set of orders, in theory they want to do as little as possible to further disrupt the lives of the children.

So, if the kids are accustomed to the father being the main parent to care for them day-in and day-out, the judge will want that to continue. And because the parents are in two homes, that leaves the mother with far less contact.

And because this kind of situation also usually happens that the parent away from home daily is the one who has been making far more money... the employed parent pays child support and perhaps spousal maintenance as well.

In short, the parents have agreed that you are the breadwinner and that Dad is the stay-at-home parent. The court will simply say, "Okay, let's just go ahead and keep something close to what has been in place for years."

On the other hand, I've read (but have no experience) from other child custody litigants as well as attorneys that New Jersey is among the worst states for fathers. So, you may encounter some judicial bias that favors your position.

But, I would suggest that you immediately find ways to spend more time with your kids, much more frequently. Some ideas:

  • Drop your Saturday classes for a while. Spend the entire weekend with the kids. Encourage the father to take some time off on the weekends. I hear the importance to you that an advanced degree offers. But what is your priority? The degree or your relationship with the kids? Some people may answer the former, some the latter. It's up to you to make that decision.

  • Look into a closer job. If you commute ten minutes each way, you're home 2.5 hours more per day to help raise the children. Rather than seeking to provide everything possible, start thinking about what is NEEDED, and see if you can budget down.

  • If not a new job, look into what sort of flexibility you may have with your job. Can you do four 10-hour days, so you have three day weekends with the kids? It's not like you see them much on your work days anyway. Can you afford to work 75% less at a 25% pay cut (but still have all benefits)? Some companies offer family-friendly options. Look into it, and figure out ways to keep you at home as much as possible.

  • Use a journal to document all the time you spend taking care of the kids.

If 6 to 12 months go by, and if you've been the one mostly taking care of the kids on three days per week, you'll have a good shot at getting temporary orders for 50/50 upon separation.

But right now, if I were a judge looking at your situation, I would conclude, "Okay, career is her priority. Being a parent is his priority. I'll make temporary custody orders with that in mind."

DURING marriage, spouses work out a plan that makes the most sense for all the long-term goals. But IF THE MARRIAGE IS ENDING, if each parent doesn't look at that plan and adjust it for short-term goals, it may really hurt their chances of remaining a highly involved parent after separation.

Finally, forcing yourself to make some adjustments to your life will also put you in a good place for getting a significant amount of custodial time. What the heck would you do, right now, if you had 50% custodial time and your husband was no longer in your home?

Good luck in making these tough decisions. Obviously, staying together is the best option, if it's a possible one.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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