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Wives Out-Earning Husbands: How That Can Affect a Divorce

D'Angelo & Grabow, LLP March 5, 2020

A recent study conducted by TD Ameritrade revealed that roughly half of women earn as much or more than their husbands. This is a dramatic shift that affects more than the professional landscape; it also affects the divorces of the men and women in these relationships.

For a few reasons we explain below, women out-earning men can present some different opportunities and challenges during a divorce.

Dividing Assets

One of the most complex elements of any divorce is dividing marital assets, regardless of who the breadwinner may be in the marriage. For instance, parties can argue over whether property is marital or separate and which property is eligible for division under Wisconsin community property laws.

And even though a woman may be the primary earner in the family, she may not be the person managing household finances. The survey revealed that two-thirds of male respondents stated they made investment and financial decisions for the household. This can put women at a disadvantage in terms of financial literacy during their divorces.

Paying Support

Any person who earns more in a marriage could wind up paying spousal support or child support. However, there can be prejudices against women who out-earn their partner or men who left a career to be at home with the kids.

As such, parties may be hesitant about requesting support. And there can be some biases to overcome in order to seek fair orders, from inaccurate expectations about alimony awards to parties who have trouble understanding shifting gender roles.

Managing Emotions

Perhaps less obvious are the emotional challenges involved in a divorce where the wife was the breadwinner.

The survey found that most men felt “neutral” when their wives out-earned them. However, there can be some complicated emotions that come up concerning requesting alimony or child support from the other person, as men may feel like such options are reserved for wives and mothers.

And women who feel guilty or embarrassed by their role may wind up giving more money or property to their ex than may be necessary or fair. It can also be painful for a mother to cope with reduced parenting time or child support obligations.

These and other potential issues can further complicate any divorce. As such, legal guidance for both parties will be crucial for parties seeking a fair outcome.