female sales clerk standing next to a cash register

Going Back To Work: How To Come To Terms With The Idea

female sales clerk standing next to a cash register


Are you a stay-at-home parent looking at divorce?  Most of my mediation cases involve a stay-at-home parent, usually Moms, but sometimes Dads. It takes a while to emotionally come to terms that your lifestyle will change during and after your divorce.

Going back to work

Going back to work is a change that is scary and hard to accept. There is the loss of prestige, loss of your social life, and your way of living. Fearing rejection from potential employers and lacking confidence in your modern work skills is normal. You may feel that a “deal” was made that you would not have to work, and you feel that deal should be kept. You will have to trust someone else to watch your kids and that’s hard for both you and your kids to accept.

The reality is that most women who were stay-at-home Moms don’t recover their standard of living after divorce.  Sadly, many end up living close to the poverty level upon retirement. Going back to work is a reality you need to face sooner rather than later. Existing assets will be depleted if you remain unemployed or underemployed. Making smart divorce decisions like going back to work will provide you a better chance at a secure retirement.

Should you go back to work before the divorce is final?

Attorneys will sometimes tell their clients not to go back to work during the divorce so they can get more support. This may work for some but it can also backfire.  Judges expect a physically able woman to return to work. I have seen judges impute income (at least minimum wage) for purposes of determining child support and spousal support when a non-working spouse is young and healthy enough to get a job (and has children over 3 years of age).

North Carolina child support guidelines only cover basic expenses.  When a parent chooses not to work, the children’s financial support suffers.  The litigation process can also take years; years during which your financial situation suffers and years wasted not getting experience, raises, and generally improving your job situation. If your attorney doesn’t “win” for you, it can be a financial disaster.

Should your ex be forced to support you?

In mediation, the working spouse usually tells me that they would find it unfair to have their lifestyle severely decline to support an ex-spouse who wants to continue to stay at home. In my “grey” (over age 50) divorces, the children are in college or in their late teens. In those cases, staying at home is seen as unfairly “retiring”, often in their early or mid-fifties.  The working spouse envisions themselves working until they are 70 or beyond. For these reasons, the working spouse asks that some level of job income be “imputed” upon the non-working spouse.

Try to look for the positives and rise to the challenge!  Technology has probably changed a lot since you have been out of the workforce but that knowledge can be learned in a short period of time. There are online courses on YouTube, Thinkific, and LinkedIn Learning where you can learn the skills you need for little or no money.

You can get a jump start by learning those skills while you are still at home. Getting formal education may not be financially smart or necessary because it postpones the inevitable, uses up resources, and may not necessarily result in enough additional income to be justified. Going back to school is sometimes just a coping mechanism because working or seeking work is much scarier than going to school.

Childcare while at work

Leaving the kids in someone else’s care is hard to face!  Realize that many kids with working parents grow up to be successful adults. There are many safe and trustworthy people out there who provide quality care for children and today having working parents is the norm.

Going back to work can help build your self-esteem and after divorce, everyone needs that boost!  Being a stay-at-home parent can be thankless!! Your kids don’t often thank you for a job well done and there is no paycheck. Being told by your boss that you are doing a great job and getting a raise can be a huge boost for your self-confidence and self-esteem. Women who rise to the challenge – even if they build up careers that result in a fraction of their ex-husband’s income – seem to be much happier and well-adjusted post-divorce.

Finally going back to work can improve your social life. At work, you will have new activities and challenges to think about. Plus you will be meeting new women and men and start new friendships, maybe even find romance!

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