Divorce When the Woman is the Breadwinner and the Homemaker

Does it Make a Difference if the Woman has the Money?

It’s human nature to want to call money “yours” if you earned it. But a married couple is a team, with each contributing to the net worth of the family in different ways. Traditionally, in the US, the primary income earner was the man and the primary caretaker for children and the home was the woman. But in the year 2019, families have progressed. More women work outside of the home and same sex couples are much more common. Families don’t look the same and this can raise special challenges in a high net worth divorce.

For this series on the challenges of divorce between wealthy couples, I sat down with Michelle Smith, owner of Smith FSG in New York City. Smith is one of the most sought-after divorce financial experts in the country and a Certified Divorce Financial Planner, regularly providing valuation services in high net worth divorces for assets, property, retirement and pension funds, and calculating divorce payments. As a financial planner with Smith FSG, Smith shares her expertise and guidance on investment strategies, philanthropic giving, and asset transfer strategies. To wrap up the series, Smith is sharing her wisdom regarding the special challenges faced in high net worth divorces when a woman is the primary earner in the family.

First, Smith recommends that everyone take a step back. She tells us there is an initial instinct for a primary breadwinner to say:

“I did all this. I worked my butt off for this. That’s why men and women alike, you’ve got to take a step back. And look, if it wasn’t fair and your husband or your wife was not that economically contributory person, well, that was your marriage. You were half of the creation of that.”

Smith cautions both parties to refer to it as “our” money. Calling it “my” money if you are the primary breadwinner can escalate conflict and cause hard feelings. Remember that it’s “your money” unless this is an inheritance situation.

Smith reminds us that there can also be another layer of conflict when a woman was the primary earner in a couple:

“[…] if you’re the woman who’s economically in control and made the money because you’re probably also doing more than 50 percent of the lift [at home] and the heavy lifting for the kids. That’s just still quite societal, where mom is still mom and mom is doing more of the parenting, not saying dad isn’t a good dad. […] So, I’ve done everything including make the money and you get half of it. No question that’s a very real feeling.”

When both parties are aware of this possible dynamic heading into divorce proceedings, they can be empowered to overcome it.

Be sure to check out this entire series with Michelle Smith as she offers advice for high net worth divorces, including the special challenges created when one spouse has inherited wealth, has built a successful business, or will be facing a drop in their standard of living; how to build financial transparency through the process; and awareness of the issues that all divorcing couples face. If you’re prepared and you’ve educated yourself about the possible challenges ahead, you’ll feel empowered and more ready to face this difficult process. [Insert links to earlier posts in the series.]

If you’re considering a divorce, but you’d like to find a different, more peaceful way through the process, contact my office for a free and confidential consultation.