In today’s world, family law emphasizes the equality of men’s and women’s rights in a divorce. Either party’s gender does not determine the outcome of a divorce case. Who gets what in a divorce is determined on a case-by-case basis, and either party may receive custody of a child, regardless of the parent’s sex or gender.
All parties to a divorce are awarded equal dignity in the eyes of the law. None of the U.S. states' statutory codes highlight the terms "man" and "woman" regarding basic rules and regulations of divorce.
Although gender equality has been recognized by family law, most women still feel uncertain about their rights as wives in a divorce case.
This article will consider some factors that still create a gender gap in the divorce process for women and provide some information about a wife’s rights in a divorce case, including what a woman should ask for in a divorce settlement.
Filing the Divorce Case
The spouse who files the initial divorce documents to begin the case does not affect either party’s rights in the divorce. It does not matter if the husband files or if the wife files - the court treats each spouse equally in the divorce process.
What Are My Rights as a Wife in a Divorce?
The primary areas of concern include spousal support, the family home and other property, and child custody.
- How much spousal support will a wife get? A wife is typically entitled to alimony if she earns less than her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Yet, sometimes this income disparity is not a substantial ground to get spousal support after divorce.
The court will typically determine whether a wife’s monthly or yearly income is sufficient to provide for her needs or maintain the standard of living she had during the marriage. If not, the judge will determine the amount of support on a case-to-case basis.
A wife can request temporary alimony (pendente lite) paid by the other spouse while the divorce is pending.
- Will a wife get child custody? If a husband is not fit to be a parent or poses a danger to children, a wife might be awarded sole custody. Instances of unfitness include domestic violence, substance abuse, risky behaviors, etc.
In this case, her husband will get visitation rights if it would be safe for children to see him.
- Will a wife stay in the family home? A wife with custodial rights most likely will be awarded their family home. Since children’s interests are the primary concern in every divorce case, the court will want to ensure that they have a place to live.
Plus, if a house was a wife’s separate property and didn’t become commingled with the marital assets, the court may give it back to her. In any case, a wife can still ask for temporary residence in the family home until the divorce is final.
A Mother’s Rights in a Divorce
There is an outdated perception that when child custody is an issue in a divorce, the court always favors the mother. However, the law does not actually favor either parent when it comes to custody determinations. Instead, the courts usually base custody decisions on what would be in the child’s best interests.
Some factors that the court may examine when making a custody determination include:
- the child's habitual way of living during the parents' marriage;
- the child’s adjustment to their home, school, and social environment;
- the child’s relationships with each parent;
- and the preferences of the parents themselves.
These factors may vary slightly from state to state but are primarily identical.
Historically, mothers have been more likely to be the primary caregivers during the marriage, so the court would consider that when making custody orders. However, now, courts generally presume that joint custody is in the child’s best interest and will order that both parents have joint custody of the child.
The court will allocate parental rights and responsibilities on a case-by-case basis and try to give both parents equal rights in the divorce.
If you are wondering what to ask for in a divorce settlement with children, it is a good idea to research the different factors that your state court looks to in determining child custody. Also, keep in mind that the court will want to ensure that the agreement you reach is in the children’s best interests.
Property Division Matters
Property may be distributed in two different ways during a divorce, depending on whether your state uses the "equitable distribution" or "community property" model.
In equitable distribution states, either the husband or wife is entitled to the marital property acquired during the marriage, depending on who earned it and considering many other factors of a particular divorce case.
Thus, the court may consider spousal misconduct and each spouse's health condition, earning capacity, education level, and career prospects. The wife can often claim the marital home if she is the primary residential parent.
Other factors that a court may consider to protect the legal and financial rights of the wife include the wage gap between the spouses and the non-monetary contribution of a homemaker to the welfare of the family.
All states except for Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin follow the principles of equitable distribution.
The community property states follow the rules that all marital assets acquired during the marriage are community property, regardless of the title. Usually, this model implies a 50/50 division of marital property. However, if the spouses decide that they’d like to divide the property differently, they can do so.
Marital VS Separate Property
It is worth noting that only the property acquired by the spouses during the marriage is subject to division in most cases. So, it is important to classify the property as either separate property or community property before you start to divvy it up.
Separate property typically includes anything acquired by either party before the marriage, after the date of separation, or by inheritance or gift. On the other hand, marital property is anything that is acquired during the marriage.
Gender does not affect how property is divided, so there is no set rule about what a husband or wife will receive in the divorce settlement.
Entitlement to Alimony
Many spouses misunderstand the rules of alimony or spousal support and have unrealistic expectations of how much they should receive from the divorce.
The rules regarding alimony vary significantly from state to state, so it is hard to predict whether a wife is entitled to alimony or how much money she could get in the divorce. In general, alimony is a tool to support the spouse who needs financial assistance due to the divorce, regardless of the spouse’s gender. Alimony is not meant to favor or punish either spouse.
The amount of alimony ordered depends on each spouse’s finances and usually takes into account how the spouses lived during the marriage. Each state has different factors it uses when determining an amount for alimony, and some states use specific formulas to come up with a support number.
Typically, a woman can be entitled to alimony if she needs assistance maintaining the lifestyle she had during the marriage. A court may award alimony to the wife in the divorce settlement if she lacks sufficient property and cannot support herself after the divorce.
Many states also recognize rehabilitative alimony when getting divorced. It may protect the rights of women who had to take a career break to look after children. Usually, rehabilitative alimony implies periodic payments for a fixed period, purposed to help the spouse with low earning capacity or lack of sufficient professional skills to get an education or training needed to find decent employment and achieve financial stability.