“I sacrificed my career to take care of the children.”
At the breakdown of a marriage or adult-interdependent relationship, some people want spousal support because they had children and took care of them when the couple lived together. The parent that took on the most parenting responsibilities might be entitled to spousal support for their role, but it’s definitely a request that should be approached with sensitivity. The parent that points their finger at the children and describes taking care of them as the reason that they aren’t rolling in the doe is basically putting a price tag on their time with their children. The parent might specifically state that spousal support is needed to compensate for a lucrative career that the children supposedly took away. While this might be the case, the way that it’s worded can be triggering to the other working parent.
“I’m being punished for earning more money.”
The concept of paying spousal support tends to make people uncomfortable when they are being asked to pay it. Many higher-earning spouses hate paying child support to their lower earning former spouse. They don’t want to pay even more money for spousal support on top of that. It doesn’t matter how much their former spouse wants or needs the extra money. From the payors point of view, it’s often said that what the spouse really needs is to get a job (or a better paying one).
Payors sometimes complain that they work their butt off to earn their wage only to be punished for it and forced to give a bunch of it away. The recipient, on the other hand, has no obligation whatsoever to spend that money on the child and there is no accounting of how the spousal support is spent either. The payor is usually portrayed as a dirtbag for asking for accountability. The payor is expected to suck it up and pay which doesn’t create much of an incentive for the recipient to try harder to earn more money.
Payors don’t always see the other side of the coin. The payor is usually caught up on how hard they work for their income and all of the years of dedication that it took to get to that point in their career. It’s usually overlooked that the former spouse was supportive “behind the scenes” by preparing meals, doing the household chores and taking care of the children.
What did the stay-at-home parent do that was so special?
The stay-at-home parent and/or the parent that was the “primary contact” for the daycare or school likely made it so the other higher-earning parent didn’t have to miss much work. There was no need to scramble for childcare on sick days. The “primary contact” handled the children’s sick days, daytime appointments and evening activities. Those parenting responsibilities make it extremely difficult to be a reliable employee or to take on rotating shifts or overtime hours. The “primary contact” prioritized caring for children which translates to missing work for the non-school days, working limited hours due to school schedules or childcare hours, missing shifts for children’s illnesses, missing work to take a child to their various daytime appointments, etc.
Children and shift work don’t always mix well. Some employers let their employees go if their children prevent them for showing up for their scheduled shifts. A child’s flu could cost a working parent their job. If one parent was consistently stuck at home caring for the children or stuck leaving work to deal with it, whatever it was, the other parent likely benefited in their own career from having that support.
One of the objectives of spousal support is to apportion between the spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of any child of the marriage. The Honourable Court might compensate a spouse that took on those parenting responsibilities at the cost of any potential career advancement. An employee that puts the needs of their child over the needs of their employer is not a good candidate for a promotion in the workforce. An employee described as unreliable may not receive a good reference, which may make it harder to land a new job. A spouse that hasn’t worked in years (or at all) will might struggle trying to enter the workforce without recent work experience, career training or qualifications.
Was the role a privilege or a burden?
A parent that wants spousal support will often portray a situation where they sacrificed their career to raise their children. The parent usually goes on to explain that they would have had a lucrative career and had such a great life if it wasn’t for the burden of being stuck at home with the children. The parent is then asking for spousal support to be compensated for the earning opportunities that could have been, if it weren’t for those children. The children are portrayed as this awful thing that happened to their future. With this approach, the parent is basically trying to assign a dollar value to their memories and time spent with the children.
“Scarified” is an extremely negative word that is thrown around loosely in spousal support applications. It’s important not to lose track of the fact that it was a privilege to spend that time at home raising their children. The working parent, in comparison, sacrificed their own time with the children by working away from the home so the stay-at-home parent could have that privilege. The family would be doomed to fail if both parents tried to be stay-at-home parents. One of them had to take one for the team and earn some money.
Anyone that is asking for spousal support as a consequence of parenting responsibilities should be extremely sensitive to the words used to describe their role, including and any limitations it may have created in the workforce. Portraying children as career suicide is extremely insulting to working parents. It’s possible to be a parent and still have a career, and most families would benefit from having the cash flow that comes with having two working parents. When only one parent earns an income, it usually places all of the financial stress and obligations on that parent. This can be a heavy burden to carry alone. It’s extremely upsetting to only have it thrown back years later in a negative manner by a spouse that wants spousal support.
Edmonton Family Network recommends working with an experienced legal professional to request or dispute spousal support. Entitlement to spousal support is a very complex issue that can be a very triggering issue to the people involved. It’s important to approach the topic of spousal support with sensitivity and to have the full awareness of the family dynamics and the perspectives of both sides.