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How An Unemployed Husband or Wife Can Impact a Divorce

Michael Tierney
December 11, 2022

A sustainable career has been essential to adulthood since human society was first developed. Careers enable us to live within the confines of our society since it provides us with status and funds, and without a career, we cannot finance the basic services needed to survive. Shelter, food, power, and more are only available to modern citizens when they can pay for them.

Unemployment means you cannot earn the funds you need to survive and will lead you to a less-than-ideal lifestyle unless things change. Eventually, unemployment begins to affect your life and the lives of those around you. While unemployment might only be your concern initially, your family could easily begin struggling with you.

The unemployment concerns are typically reserved for those with families that rely on them. After all, no relationship will survive while the dependent cannot afford basic necessities and the "provider" remains unemployed. However, there are other situations where unemployment can affect someone's family.

Solution One of the biggest concerns people have is whether the unemployed status of a spouse will impact divorce proceedings.

The odds are high that your spouse's unemployment is a major contributor to why you want to get divorced, but you might be unsure how it might impact the negotiations.

This information can be critical if you are in a contentious divorce, so learning more might be in your best interest.

It Increases the Odds of Divorce

Unemployment is a major concern in modern society as it is becoming harder for modern Americans to meet the requirements of employment, and there are fewer open positions. While bouts of unemployment are common among certain professions, others can lead to long stretches without work.

Some people are forced to reevaluate their career path when unemployment hits since they cannot find viable positions in their original field. This unemployment rate in modern society has led to a spike in divorce rates across the country, though we must consider additional factors.

Solution For the most part, unemployment can increase the odds of divorce by up to 33% in otherwise healthy marriages.

Couple Filing For Divorce

It is important to note that this is more likely when the husband in a heterosexual marriage is the unemployed spouse. While women have made significant progress in the professional world, there remains a stigma placed on unemployed men. This is because most people have not shed the mindset that the man is responsible for providing for the family. Even working women sometimes fail to acknowledge this change and resent their husbands for not working. As a result, any marriages where the husband is unemployed while the wife is working have a higher risk of divorce than 2 income households.

While this does not impact the divorce proceedings, unemployment being a source of contention can increase the chances significantly. This is not to say that being unemployed will definitively end your marriage, but that complacency with unemployment will. The stress involved with financial struggle can bring about the worst arguments in your marriage and drive a significant wedge between you and your spouse. While it might seem like unemployment only impacts divorce rates, it can also extend to the subsequent proceedings.

It Affects Spousal Support Agreements

When going through a divorce, the spousal support payments are one of the most contentious parts of the negotiations. Spousal support, or alimony, is a monthly sum one spouse pays the other to help maintain their quality of life. This is done to ensure your future ex-spouse will not live a lesser life than they did while you were married.

When people hear the term "alimony," they tend to assume it is a sum paid by the ex-husband to their ex-wife, but this is a misconception. The gender of the spouse has nothing to do with who gets the alimony payments and who receives them. Rather, it depends on who will need the payments most once the divorce is finalized and the marriage is dissolved.

Unfortunately, unemployment can significantly sway the spousal support negotiations out of your favor.

Spousal Support Payment

The determination of who pays spousal support is predicated on 2 important details:

  • Need: The first thing judges consider when awarding spousal support is whether each spouse needs support to maintain their quality of life. If one spouse needs the payments more than the other, they will likely receive any payments.
  • Ability to Pay: The second detail a judge considers is whether the other spouse can afford spousal support payments. If the other spouse cannot financially support the other, the judge is unlikely to award spousal support.
Solution Both of these details can make it more likely that you will end up paying spousal support if your spouse is unemployed. If you are gainfully employed and decide to divorce your unemployed spouse, you are considered to be in a position to pay spousal support.

It is common for an unemployed spouse to be awarded spousal support during divorce negotiations.

Generally, these payments only stop once the spouse receiving the support remarries or passes away. Sometimes, spousal support agreements can be renegotiated when the circumstances of either spouse have changed, but you should not rely on this.

Conversely, if you are an unemployed spouse and your future ex is employed, you reap spousal support benefits. Ultimately, spousal support will almost always benefit the unemployed spouse over the employed one. Unfortunately, this is not the only effect unemployment has on divorce.

It Affects Child Custody Arrangements

Another important part of divorce is the child custody agreement required for couples with children. Child custody arrangements usually assign physical custody of the child to the parent with the most resources to care for them full-time. This means attending to their housing, food, and general care without compromising other important financial obligations. This means that the custodial parent usually has to have a source of regular income to be awarded physical custody of the child.

Unemployment means there is no source of regular income, and the child's needs might go unattended due to a lack of financial resources. While this might seem like it would disqualify an unemployed parent from full custody, this is not necessarily true. Child custody arrangements are based on what is best for the child, which might mean keeping them with an unemployed parent.

Solution A judge cannot disqualify a parent from retaining custody over their child because they are unemployed.

That said, an unemployed parent does operate from a significantly weaker position during this stage of the negotiations. A parent with physical custody of the child has to be able to provide a stable home for them, but it does not mean the home has to belong to you. In some states, it is possible to be assigned custody of your child while living with a friend or relative.

Usually, these arrangements are temporary while the unemployed spouse seeks a job and a new home, but if the offer is indefinite, it is still considered stable housing. Before getting your hopes up, remember that each state has different laws about what is considered stable housing in these negotiations. You will have to consult with your counselor to determine the strength of your situation when requesting custody.

Parents Fighting Over Child Custody

If you are on the other side of the argument, you can make a case that your spouse's lack of employment puts you in a better position to care for your child full-time. This argument might help you retain primary custody over the child, but it will not invalidate your spouse's rights to have their child stay with them.

Most courts want both parents to have regular contact with the child to maintain a stable family dynamic. Even an unemployed spouse is permitted visitation rights following a divorce, so you cannot expect to invalidate that based on their employment status. Nevertheless, your odds of being awarded primary custody are far higher since you are better equipped to provide for the child financially.

Child custody is one of the more stressful points of divorce negotiation and might be impacted by employment status. While your ability to be in your child's life is not affected by employment status, losing custody of your child remains a possibility. Unfortunately, this is not a child's only role in divorce cases. Regardless of custody, both parents are obligated to contribute to the child's life directly.

It Affects Child Support Arrangements

While child custody is extremely important, another major factor is that the non-custodial parent is expected to provide child support. Unlike spousal support, which can be waived should both parties agree, child support is inevitable in all cases. Neither parent is permitted to disregard their financial obligations to their child and must make regular support payments should the judge mandate them.

Like spousal support, multiple factors are considered when determining the amount of child support the non-custodial parent is expected to pay. These details usually pertain to the needs of the child and the physical and financial circumstances of each parent. This might lead some to assume that unemployment excuses a parent from child support payments, but this is not true.

Solution The non-custodial parent is expected to make child support payments regardless of employment status.

If you are unemployed and your spouse is awarded custody of your child, you must make child support payments as outlined in the court schedule. However, the judge will consider your unemployed status when determining the amount of child support you owe every month. In most states, a judge will default to child support payments that apply to a parent with a minimum wage position. This will keep the average child support payments fairly low but will require you to seek a position that pays the minimum wage immediately.

Custodial Parent and Child

While minimum wage is the baseline for unemployed parents, you might be forced to pay more child support if promoted or given a substantial raise. When the circumstances of your income change, the custodial parent can file a request to reassess the child support arrangement to reflect your new income. However, you will not be expected to pay support beyond your means and will be able to retain the quality of life that income allows. If you cannot find a minimum wage position promptly, you might have to apply for unemployment benefits.

If you apply for unemployment, you must inform the office of your child support obligations. Doing so will ensure the unemployment office automatically deducts the amount owed for child support from your check. This will allow the payments to continue unimpeded without you accidentally spending a portion of the funds. Unemployment benefits have limits, so you will need to continue your search for employment while receiving them. Ultimately, unemployment will do nothing to prevent your child support obligations but will ensure you are not rendered bankrupt while paying what you owe.

Learn the Law

Divorce is a highly unpleasant and undesirable situation for any couple, especially for unemployed spouses. These civil cases are used to divide assets and give both spouses access to the resources they are owed. When a spouse is unemployed, they usually have to give less in support payments but are not absolved of their responsibilities.

Conversely, the employed spouse will usually end up paying spousal support to their unemployed ex-spouse if they have the financial means. In either case, unemployment significantly affects divorce proceedings and the support payments involved. Unfortunately, your spouse's employment status is far from the biggest concern you will face during divorce.

Civil Court Case

Divorce cases can bring out the worst in couples and lead to serious disagreements that turn the proceedings into hostile situations. Some people will even employ underhanded techniques to sway the process in their favor. While not everyone is liable to use these tactics against their spouse, the possibility always exists. Additionally, some details about divorce are extremely confusing and can blindside you unless you have prior knowledge of them. The only way to survive divorce is to be informed and use information as your shield. We realize that this situation is highly unpleasant, but we hope that this article has provided some assistance.

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Written By:
Michael Tierney

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