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Women taking on the "main childcarer" role at the expense of their earning potential

(139 Posts)
minipie Wed 09-Jul-14 11:50:03

Bear with me, this is rather long winded. Inspired by a recent thread on the divorce/separation board.

Ok, so DH and I are both in jobs involving long hours. When we had DD it was clear that either one or both of us was going to have to take our work down a notch in order to do pick ups/ensure DD saw a parent at bedtime (we both agreed this was important).

Financially, it was much better for us as a family for only one of us to take a large step down and do most of the pick ups/bedtimes etc, with the other staying full time, rather than both of us take a smaller step down and do 50% bedtimes each.

I earn less. Mainly for this reason, it was me who went part time, reducing my earnings and shelving any promotion prospects, and DH who carried on full time climbing the promotion ladder.

Fast forward a few years and I can see that my career/earning power will be stagnant at best, while DH's will have gone from strength to strength.

If we stay together, that's all well and good. But what if we split? What if DH decides to waltz off into the sunset (BTW I have absolutely no reason to think this will happen but then nobody ever does, right?)

I gather there is no right to spousal maintenance any more. Ex wives are expected to support themselves, by and large. Therefore, if we split, there will be no recompense for the fact that I buggered my future earnings potential to look after our child, and DH did not.

This of course applies not just to me but to millions of women who take on the "main childcarer" role at the expense of their earnings - especially those who become SAHMs.

I kind of feel I should get some sort of acknowledgement/agreement from DH that I am compromising my future earnings in this way - ideally, I would get an agreement that he will make some sort of recompense to me if we do split. (I have no idea if this would even be enforceable mind you). DH on the other hand is pretty horrified by the idea - he agrees in principle, but hates the idea of having these sorts of legalistic/antagonistic discussions with his DW. I can see his point.

So, has anyone else considered this? Anyone else tried to protect themselves somehow from the long term effects of going part time/becoming a SAHM - in the event of a split? Or is the only true protection to ensure both parents do 50% childcare and take equal knocks to their earnings/career?


LurcioAgain Wed 09-Jul-14 11:54:41

I have long thought that while alimony is wrong (rooted in a 1950s idea that women had no independent financial life, but took on marriage as a "career" and hence needed an income if the marriage failed), compensation for lost earnings is absolutely justified - and already done in other parts of law (e.g. where someone is disabled in a workplace accident).

minipie Wed 09-Jul-14 12:10:43

Thanks Lurcio. I agree - it's about compensation not alimony per se.

At present I believe the divorce courts don't approach it that way. So I'm wondering how a woman (or indeed a man in the same position) would ensure she does get that compensation?

Primrose123 Wed 09-Jul-14 12:21:23

I've been thinking about this lately OP, we must have read the same thread!

Like you, I am not expecting split up, but I did sacrifice a few years to stay home with the children. While this was completely my choice, I wasn't aware of how difficult it would be to go back to work, and now DH has a much higher earning potential than I do, and I don't think I could ever catch up. I used to have a good job, but any time not working seems to mean that I could only look at basic admin jobs, despite the fact that this is not what I did pre-children. I ended up retraining as a teacher and start a new job soon. It took a few years to train and then actually find a job though. I was lucky that DH could support me financially through that, though it hasn't been easy.

I agree that this should be taken into account, but I don't have any suggestions about how we should go about it.

Bluegrass Wed 09-Jul-14 12:34:18

Looking at it from the other angle, one partner (of either sex) agrees to give up time they could have spent with their children to focus on earning for the family. On divorce they may still get to spend much less time with their children as they gave up the right to be considered the primary carer.

They too may feel they have suffered a loss, a loss of time with their family that they can never get back. Should that not be taken into account as well? Otherwise the "cost" of one person's choice could end up being compensated, but not the other's, even though the sacrifice may feel just as real to them.

MontyGlee Wed 09-Jul-14 12:46:41

I've seen this dilemma a lot and, with very few exceptions, there hasn't really been a 'family decision' as the mother is the one that feels strongest about wanting to be with her child. I've seen very few decisions made on financial / pratical bases; (if financially viable) the mother stays at home because that's what she wants to do. Maybe there's some wonderful jobs out there where people just love to go to work every day, but I've not come across many of them. Who wouldn't rather stay with their kids? You don't get that time back.

minipie Wed 09-Jul-14 12:47:00

Yes I see that bluegrass. In theory the way to compensate for that would be for any hypothetical "agreement" to say that in the event of a split, the main earning partner should have more time with DC than the courts might award (in the same way that the main childcaring partner should have more money than the courts might award).

The difficulty with this solution is that time with DC isn't an impersonal "benefit" in the same way money is - the DC's interests come first and it may (in some cases) be in their best interests to spend most of their time with one parent.

Or I suppose you could compensate with money but there's something rather grim about putting a money value on time with DC.

minipie Wed 09-Jul-14 12:58:05

Monty hmm I don't know.

I agree there are loads of women who are delighted to become SAHMs, but there's plenty who have become SAHMs (or gone part time, or taken a less demanding job) because that works best for the family even though it's not their personal ideal.

For example, all the women who are not able to go back to work because their salary doesn't cover childcare - that is a family decision in the sense that, as a family, they could afford to pay the childcare, but they would be worse off. So the woman has given up her earnings in order to make the family as a whole better off.

At the other end of the earnings scale, high earning women who like their careers and don't particularly want to be the primary childcarer, would prefer to do things 50/50, but have ended up accepting more of an 80/20 split with them as the main childcarer, because they earn less and/or because their job is more flexible and/or because as a woman they feel more able to ask for flexible working.

BillnTedsMostFeministAdventure Wed 09-Jul-14 13:03:06

"Who wouldn't rather stay with their kids? You don't get that time back."

Well, all the men with SAHPs on this "finance blind" plan!

davidjrmum Wed 09-Jul-14 13:04:53

"In theory the way to compensate for that would be for any hypothetical "agreement" to say that in the event of a split, the main earning partner should have more time with DC than the courts might award (in the same way that the main childcaring partner should have more money than the courts might award). "

I'm not sure that getting to spend more time with your possibly now older and difficult teen is necessarily much compensation for missing the delights of seeing them more when they are younger!

I've been the one going to work for the last 15 years and my dh has been the sahd. As there is virtually no likelihood of dh recovering his previous earning potential I'm basically stuck being the main breadwinner whether I like it or not. If my dh would be entitled to compensation for lack of earnings then I'd like to be compensated for emotional distress at missing out on key events in my dc lives and for all the times I've been stuck in a job I hate because my family is depending on my income.

minipie Wed 09-Jul-14 13:05:06

All the men with SAHPs... and me... I am much happier at work than being a SAHM!

minipie Wed 09-Jul-14 13:09:20

Food for thought davidjr.

I guess I am envisaging a main breadwinner parent who doesn't actually mind having seen less of his/her children when young (my DH is quite up front that he wouldn't want to be the main childcarer) whereas you clearly do mind. Not sure how you would be compensated for emotional distress though. How do you put a value on being home for bedtime?

MontyGlee Wed 09-Jul-14 13:13:49

I don't disagree minipie... but 'personal ideal' is something that's beyond most people's reach anyway. Ok, if you love your job and earn shed-loads, then whoopy-doo. But what relevance does that have for most people? Children require compromises. Full stop. I get a bit irate when we start talking about 'having it all' because that implies compromises don't have to be made. That's just not life though - unless you're the 1%.

This is off-thread, though. Clearly when a couple separate, historical sacrifices should be considered in terms of settlement.

museumum Wed 09-Jul-14 13:14:22

I believe there's such a thing as a 'post-nuptual agreement' - I dont' think they're enforceable in english law but i think they are taken into consideration.

Personally we decided that despite it probably being better financially for me to compromise my career entirely and dh not at all, it was important for us to both participate so we have chosen to both take a bit of a hit. I believe in choice in all matters regarding family life but I think you have to take some of the pitfalls of choosing for one person to take all the career hits rather than sharing them. Just as those who share the drops/pick-ups etc take the pitfalls of that approach.

FragileBrittleStar Wed 09-Jul-14 13:14:54

It is tricky- DP is a p/ul t SAHD and although it does make it easier for us in many ways thats not the reason he is doing it - I would be perfectly happy if he got a job. I would be really resentful if I had to compensate him/pay for him to continue in his life style if we splt up - he has chosen to stop working - i haven't objected- but he hasn't lost out on anything. We're not married so it would be a less likely scenario but I do have emails on record where I tell him that i would be fine with him working its his decisions etc!
So I guess what I am saying is that it depends on the situation

MontyGlee Wed 09-Jul-14 13:19:15

All men with SAHP would rather go to work than stay at home with their kids? As a statement that's as valid as 'All women want to be SAHMs rather than go to work". What generalising bollocks.

PeterParkerSays Wed 09-Jul-14 13:25:23

davidjrmum i could have written your post, particularly yesterday afternoon when I couldn't get the afternoon off for DS' sports day. We had intended to both go part time, 4 days a week, but DH had a hellish commute (120 miles a day) as we moved house to be near to my job and he couldn't get a job nearer home and my request for reduced hours on return from maternity leave was turned down so I got stuck with the full time work. DH has no intention of ever returning to full time work (we discussed it if we moved back to where he works as it would give me more flexibility to find a job over there) as he'll be nearing retirement age when DS leaves school.

Maybe your question needs to be about why these woman are the lower earners in the first place, so there's less of an impact on the family income if they go part time, rather on why they take on the childcare.

BoomBoomsCousin Wed 09-Jul-14 13:29:35

I don't think DavidJr's analogoy to time with children is relevent.

The idea of compensating for lost earnings on divorce isn't about compensating for the earnings that were not earned during the time you are married and looking after the kids instead of concentrating on a career, but for the earning potential you now cannot recover in order to provide for yourself once you are divorced.

When it comes to time with children - someone who has "missed out" on the "delightful" younger years will have "missed out" on the same thing whether they divorce or stay married. And if they don't want extra "difficult teen" years then that's more time the financially less capable parent is going to have to spend dealing with that "difficult teen".

dreamingbohemian Wed 09-Jul-14 13:39:21

That's a great point, Peter. I have seen probably hundreds of threads on here with the line, 'DH had more earning potential so we decided I would be the one to stay home with the kids'.

Obviously many women love being SAHM but many others are doing so purely on the basis of this very simplistic financial calculation.

I think it's much more fair for both parents to take a hit -- and in some ways, even sensible, because then the family will be better off in case of redundancy or divorce or death (i.e., won't depend on just one breadwinner).

Of course, making childcare actually affordable would go a long way to improving women's choices as well. I live in a country now where we pay practically nothing for FT childcare, it makes a huge difference.

minipie Wed 09-Jul-14 13:55:41

Yes I agree it's a very important question why women tend to be earning less and so tend to be the one to step down at work. I also think that maternity leave has a big role to play as it tends to embed women in the role of primary carer. Also agree about affordable childcare.

I think it's much more fair for both parents to take a hit.

I agree it's fairer if both take a hit. The trouble is that this just doesn't work in some jobs. For example in my DH's area it would be simply impossible for him to have reduced his hours. He would have had to move to a different career altogether and probably started again at the bottom - which would have been much worse financially for us as a family even though it would have been "fairer" as between me and DH.

I think you have to take some of the pitfalls of choosing for one person to take all the career hits rather than sharing them. Just as those who share the drops/pick-ups etc take the pitfalls of that approach.

I'm not sure. The thing is that if you share 50/50 then you both take the pitfalls of that approach, ie if the family earns less overall as a result of a 50/50 approach then you are both affected equally by that. Whereas if you share 80/20 or 100/0 then it's the SAHP/main childcarer who bears the pitfalls because he/she has her future earnings compromised. The pitfalls aren't shared.

fragile I think our position is different in that I literally could not go back to the full time working I was doing before. If I went back to that sort of work we would have to have childcare till 10pm every day!

BillnTedsMostFeministAdventure Wed 09-Jul-14 13:57:49

Monty, if that was at me, my point was that your statement was a massive generalisation.

TheWomanTheyCallJayne Wed 09-Jul-14 14:05:57

Yes to looking at womens wages and maternity leave.

Minnieisthedevilmouse Wed 09-Jul-14 14:19:36

I'm a sahm now. Was City worker. At the peak of my career I earnt half of dh. On no practical sense was it viable for me to return and him be at home. I requested all pat rights. Refused. Appealed, success, then redundant. Imagine my surprise....!

My role required 8-8 min hrs, no overtime pay but ot expected, blackberry all hours. It was impossible to do. And effectively, regardless of rank my job boiled down to admin of a variety. Just office crappola. Returning to the pre mat leave firm made sense. Sourcing a new corporate for it to be the same was in our view insane.

So I'm sahm. I wonder similar stuff op. Unless you find a feminist knowledgeable lawyer I guess we would be fucked....

MontyGlee Wed 09-Jul-14 14:41:42

Maybe my views are coloured by finding work a financially-necessary chore rather than some wonderful opportunity. I just find it odd that anyone would actively prefer to dump their kids at a nursery so they can spend 8 hours sitting at a computer. There always seems a presumption in this discussion that work's a privilege while being a housewife is the essence of martyrdom.

Poofus Wed 09-Jul-14 15:00:14

This is a vicious cycle, though, isn't it? One of the reasons women earn less than men and find it harder to get hired even before having children is because it is expected that they will have less long-term commitment to their jobs once they start a family. So they earn less, and the decision is made when they do have kids that they will be the SAHP/work PT. Which just reinforces the whole notion that women are less committed to their work in the long run, enabling lower pay.

The only solution I can see is to enforce a 50:50 split or for it to be the man who becomes the primary career, regardless of income.

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