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  1. Law
June 21, 2011

Stay-at-Home Husbands

By Spear's

What are the effects of the hidden issues to consider when you see a father at the school gates, without suit or BlackBerry?

Various factors have left to the rise in househusbands including:

•    The increase in the numbers of women who work after children as this becomes more of an expectation. Longer maternity leave may play a part as women who would not have wanted to go back after three months, do wish to go back after a year.

•    A husband with a more lucrative but less secure job being made redundant. His wife is in a job which was not intended to be the main bread winning role. This family may not be able to afford childcare whilst the husband looks for work, and so unintentionally the husband may become the children’s primary carer.

•    It has become more usual for a father to play a full part in his children’s upbringing, giving families a genuine choice and flexibility as to which parent should stay at home to look after the children.

•    It is easier for men to be accepted in parent and toddler groups and so on than it used to be, and less difficult for working mothers to admit that their husbands are primary carers.

•    Sometimes a husband married to a wife with a good income gives up work for reasons other than for childcare. Maybe he has always been unhappy at work and the parties agree that he should stay at home and follow a dream such as painting or writing. If the marriage later breaks down and the couple have children there can be an argument whether the husband did give up work to look after the children, and as to how good a job he made of it.

Having or being a house husband may either precipitate or accelerate the breakdown of the marriage. The husband may feel that he is doing a very good job of the childrearing and that his wife is largely absent, and when she is there she constantly criticises the way he does things. The wife may feel that not only is she financially responsible but in effect she has to look after the household and be responsible for the children too as the husband does not do things properly.

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If the marriage breaks down, this can lead to a crisis. First, there may be an argument about the children’s arrangements. The wife may feel that the children’s best interests lie in her looking after them, particularly if they have had a nanny anyway. She may feel that the husband is inadequate and simply using the children as an excuse not to work.

The husband may believe that he should look after the children as he has been doing, and resent the wife suddenly being able to work part-time or come home early in the evening upon the breakdown of the marriage if he has been trying to get her to do that for years. This can lead to an acrimonious and potentially very expensive legal battle over the children’s arrangements.

There are also significant financial consequences upon the breakdown of the marriage. If the assets have been made during the marriage, and not inherited or gifts, then they are likely to be divided equally unless one party needs more. If a husband ends up with the children living with him it may be in the lower asset value cases that he can claim more than half of the capital.

However, if there are sufficient assets for each party’s needs, since financial contribution is not valued more highly than non-financial contribution, being a house husband is not likely to affect a husband’s capital entitlement. It is, on the other hand, likely to be relevant when considering income.

Both parties have the right to claim against the other for maintenance for themselves. This can be for joint lives, ie until the death of the first of the couple. If a husband can claim that he has given up a career for the children, then he may have a “compensation” claim and so should be entitled to enhanced provision. This will be an issue for the wife who believes that he has given up work because he wanted to anyway, that he has not done a very good job in looking after the children, and that in effect it is not a real role reversal case.

Of course if the family is happy there are benefits to all both financially and otherwise in having a parent rather than a third party caring for the children.
Wives however need to be aware of the risk, if their husbands give up work and look after the children, that they may end up with the children being based with the husband, and a maintenance liability on top. Husbands need to be aware that they may believe that they have given up their careers for their children, only to find that their wives go part time, and they are back on the job market.

Sarah Higgins is a Partner and Head of the Family group at Charles Russell LLP.

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