When divorce is on the horizon, those who have been a stay-at-home parent during the marriage often consider going back to work. Whether yours is a decision based on need or want or some combination of the two, as you negotiate the terms of your divorce, it is important to consider how a return to work could potentially impact the settlement you receive or pay, as well as your custody arrangements. The more you plan for, the less likely you will be faced with amending your agreement post-judgment, which will save you time, money, and aggravation in the long run.
Depending on the terms of your divorce agreement, the money you earn could potentially affect the amount of support you receive each month. Many states, including New Jersey, have guidelines in place suggesting the minimum amount of child support that a spouse must pay. However, depending on the state in which you live, alimony awards may not be regulated in this way, leaving a lot of room for negotiation.
A clause can be added to your divorce agreement to protect your alimony award from being diminished should the paying spouse have a “change of circumstances,” including early retirement, illness, or the loss of a job, the paying spouse may still have a case for modifying his or her alimony obligation post-judgment. And despite there being a clause in your divorce agreement stipulating that the money you earn will have no effect on the alimony you receive each month, a court may examine your earnings in an inquiry post-judgment and, depending on how strong a case the spouse seeking the modification has, may make changes nonetheless.
As you search for a job, you need to ensure that your children will be adequately cared for while you are at work. That costs money and must be accounted for as you negotiate the terms of your settlement. Even though one parent may have been the primary caregiver during the marriage while responsibility for earnings fell primarily on the other, you don’t want to suddenly face shouldering the entire burden of childcare, diminishing or even depleting the income you earn. Do your homework beforehand and determine, based on the ages of the children, what your childcare needs will be. Your requirements may change over time, and you can account for those in your agreement as well.
Who will provide medical benefits for your children is yet another consideration you must make as you prepare to work outside the home. Your spouse may request that you either assume or contribute to your kids’ medical and dental benefits should you receive such benefits as part of your compensation or are offered the opportunity to receive them at a reduced rate. It is important to be cautious about assuming responsibility for your children’s benefits, especially if you are returning to work for the first time after a long absence and do not yet have job security. Many insurance companies restrict how many times you can cancel and then re-enroll during a specific timeframe, and you don’t want to be caught shopping for plans should you unexpectedly lose your job and, as a result, your benefits.
Despite the dent returning to work can potentially make in the spousal support that you receive, reentering the workplace can be one of the best ways for you to regain your independence following a divorce. The loss of income you may face in the short-term will pale in comparison to the investment you are making in your future. While it is important to protect yourself financially as you leave your marriage, nothing, as they say, is written in stone, including spousal support. Your best bet is to work and build your career because, at the end of the day, the person you can count on most is yourself.