The Invisibility of Caregiving Work and its Adverse Impacts on Women


Current divorce laws with regards to child-support and alimony fail to adequately support mothers coming out of traditional families where there is a primary bread-winner and a primary care-giver, a higher earner and a lower earner. There is an increasing trend of divorced women entering poverty. Census data from 2007 show that 82.6% of custodial parents are women and a third of them live in poverty compared to 12.9% of men. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of poverty among older, divorced/widowed women among other high-income countries such as Sweden and the UK, especially women with childcare responsibilities.

How a judge determines child-support and alimony have been left to interpretation and based on need and not fairness. In order for divorce courts to divide a couple’s assets and income equitably, judges must put a monetary value on services and items that have no market value such as educational degrees, parental child-care and housework. Judges in Ohio were surveyed to award anywhere between $5000 and $175,000 to a hypothetical lifelong homemaker married to a doctor. Part of this discrepancy is also due to judges not being aware of the gender biases they might have when making decisions—why determining child-support and alimony based on fairness and not need is necessary to achieve gender equity. Child-care also terminates once the children turn of legal age, which dramatically limits their ability to attend college and graduate school. Most children of divorced families do not achieve the same status of living as their fathers.

Judges, attorneys and clients do not understand the changing value of assets, income, education, childcare, and housework over time. The primary breadwinner continues to benefit from the primary caregiver’s services in the past that make it easier for him or her to accrue assets post-divorce; the primary caregiver continues to have a harder time accruing assets due to lost earning-potential and lost education opportunities. The primary caregiver can also suffer from lack of financial expertise such as not knowing how to make a budget or a financial plan/portfolio that exacerbates the effects of awarding alimony and childcare based on need.