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How divorce may affect stay-at-home mothers

Some Oregon mothers may be among the more than 25 percent of American mothers who stay home with their children or even among the 10 percent of so-called “highly educated” mothers who do so. However, even though many Americans feel the mother is a better choice than the father in caring for a newborn, they do not necessarily agree that her contributions mean she should be entitled to an equal share of assets if the two divorce.

Like most states, Oregon requires that assets be divided equitably in a divorce. A study by two Vanderbilt University professors looked at what an equitable division of assets meant to 3,000 participants. They created a story about a couple in which the husband filed for divorce after 17 years of marriage. Both had worked outside the home until the wife quit her job five years into the marriage. From that point, the scenarios diverged. Participants were given variations in which their professions, level of education and property varied.

In general, all the participants agreed that there was some value in the caregiving. However, more women valued the caregiving role in terms of distributing assets and more men valued the breadwinning role. In addition, men tended to give more assets to mothers who had more education. Women did not appear to consider education level in awarding assets.

The process of negotiating property division and spousal support can be a difficult one. Both individuals may be concerned about their financial security. With the assistance of attorneys, they might be able to negotiate an agreement that satisfies both. People may want to discuss the possibilities for property division with an attorney ahead of time. This can help them think through what issues they may be willing to compromise on and which ones they are not during negotiations.