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Wife as ‘breadwinner’ increases odds of divorce

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP February 19, 2019

Gone are the days where the wife automatically stays home to raise the children, while the husband goes off to work each day. It may have been this way for many of our grandparents, or even parents, but nowadays it is the norm for both the husband and wife to work. Not only this, increasingly it is the wife who is the breadwinner of the family, out-earning the husband.

But just what does this do to a marriage? Do men feel threatened by a wife who earns more? How are the household chores and child-rearing responsibilities split? Does any of this increase the odds of divorce?

Earning more and taking on more household responsibilities

A piece in The New York Times looked at this earnings shift, noting many trends, including:

  • Women earn more than men in almost a quarter of relationships.
  • Women are still handling more of the housework and child care in many of these relationships.
  • Marriage is less likely to happen when the woman earns more than the man.
  • Divorce is more likely when the wife earns more than the husband.

In looking at these trends, it is interesting to note that even though more and more women are earning more, the societal pressure for the husband to be the one to financially provide for the family is still very much there. One can imagine that this can lead to unhappiness, which can in turn have a negative impact on the health of the marriage.

Additionally, in seeing that women are still handling more of the housework and child care responsibilities, on top of working, this too can understandably lead to unhappiness and frustration in a relationship.

What happens in a divorce when the wife is a higher earner?

Maintenance (also known as spousal support or alimony), where the higher wage earner makes payments to their ex, is not guaranteed in divorce. However, it is certainly something a husband can request when his wife is the high wage earner. A judge will decide if maintenance is appropriate, typically making the decision based on the length of the marriage, the financial situation of both husband and wife and any other unique family situations and needs.

Typically, maintenance is not permanent in Colorado. However, it is ultimately up to the court to decide the amount and duration. Considering the immense financial impacts a divorce can bring, women who are high wage earners should learn their options before proceeding into divorce.