Stay At Home Dad: What Are My Rights?

By Jill A. Duffy

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

The new era of stay-at-home fatherhood is putting men in some uncharted territory because traditionally women were the ones to stay at home and raise children. Many stay-at-home dads have questions about their rights because of this.

When a woman stays at home during the marriage to take care of the kids, it is customary for the children to remain primarily with her after the divorce, and for her to get child support and spousal support to continue living the lifestyle she was accustomed to. Is it any different for a stay-at-home dad?

The short answer: It shouldn’t be.

In all states, statutes regarding child custody, child support and spousal support are drafted in a gender-neutral manner. Long gone are the days of the “Tender Years” doctrine, which presumed that children under age 13 should be with their mother.

Unfortunately, the “Tender Years” mindset has not been completely banished in our country. Although there are some guidelines with regard to spousal support and child custody, in most parts of the country judges are given discretion to make rulings on these issues based on the facts and circumstances that are in front of them.

Child custody is normally determined based on what is in the child’s best interest. Many states have statutory lists of factors they will consider when awarding custody to one parent or the other. You should become familiar with the factors in your state and which ones may be critical in your case.

Child support is normally more cut and dry than an award of child custody. Most states use a formula for child support based on the number of overnights the child spends with each parent, the parent’s income, and the child’s age.

Spousal support is not required, and there are not standard formulas for determining the amount or length of time it is awarded. Of all areas of divorce, spousal support is the most negotiable. Most states have statutes that give judges factors to consider if the support decision is left to the court. Most spousal support decisions are negotiated between the parties based on the length of the marriage, differences in income, the property settlement that is made and who gets custody of the children.

Here are a few tips to start your divorce on the path to preserving your right to parent your children:

  • Be the first to file. The person who files has an immediate advantage. They get the first word with the judge, and can set the tone for how the case will proceed.
  • If your jurisdiction allows it, enter ex parte (unilateral) orders that reflect your current custody situation. Ex parte orders allow you to have the judge enter an order establishing custody for the pendency of the divorce. Although the order can be modified later, the ex parte order gives you the first say in the custody battle.
  • Make sure you can document what the established custodial environment currently is. Gather any proof you may have of what you do on a daily basis as the children’s primary caregiver and proof of the children’s relationship with you.
  • Have witnesses ready. Have witnesses that can testify about your relationship with your children. These witnesses need to be able to say more than “he’s a great dad.” You will want to have people who have seen you and your children interact in specific instances and can explain how that interaction took plae and your children’s reliance on you as a parent.
  • Do not deny parenting time with your spouse. All judges frown upon one parent trying to keep the children from the other parent. Even if you are the primary caregiver, it is important that your children maintain a relationship with their mother.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. Most child custody and spousal support decisions are a result of negotiations between the parents and their attorneys. It is okay to hold out for what you believe is best for your family, just make sure your attorney is fully informed of what you are trying to accomplish and he/she is willing to fight for it.
  • Don’t bad mouth your spouse especially in front of your children. This hurts your children more than your spouse, and judges will not tolerate this type of behavior.


Jill A. Duffy is an Associate Attorney in the Troy, Mich., office of Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in the state of Michigan. Ms. Duffy received her BA in Psychology and Spanish and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Oakland University. She received her Juris Doctor from Michigan State University College of Law and graduated Magna Cum Laude. 

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17 comments on “Stay At Home Dad: What Are My Rights?

    I live in the state of Nebraska and I have been a stay at home dad for five years with my daughter. She turns five this year and the wife has been yelling at me about getting a divorce for the past three years and using it as a threat. I really don’t want to divorce but she does. She also makes the money in the home I don’t make any money because I’m a home Dad. What can I do to protect myself from losing everything we are also buying a home together.

    what is the woman(spouse) is full time working, paying all the bills, and the dad is the stay at home, who will get child support?

    I have been a stay at home dad off and on over the last 16 years. I married a women that was 8 years older than me. She had 4 sons when we married. Her ex was a abusive alcoholic and her kids turned out to be alcholic and heroin addicts. We have a 16 year old son together whom i have raised and am very protective of. First she moved her 29 year old son into our apt. It wasnt long before he was stealing from us. Then she brought her other drug addict son to live with us. After much drama we moved to a smaller apt just tbe 3 of us my wife my 16 year old and my self. A couple of months later she tells me tbat her son jake is homeless and has nowhere to go and is truing to get into rehab . To make this long story short it’s not working out at all we are constantly arguing. I have been as helpful as i can but now im done. Im screwed though im not working and have been the primary care taker ny sons whole life. He is a honor student a athlete and a great well mannered young man. He is nothing like my wife’s kids ,which is exactly what i have been working to ensure. I cant have him in this environment any longer, i feel stuck and looking for a way out asap. Is there anyone that can help me.

    I need immediate advice, my wife and I have been married for almost 4 years. We are getting a divorce. We rent a house and she wants me out. Do I have to move, I have no where to go. If there is a law to help me can you let me know where to look. Have till Tuesday.
    Thank you

    I was working in general warehouse and had lost my job so the very next day I started looking for work. My other asked me to stay home and take care of our 2 year old daughter but I told her I wanted to get back to work as soon as possible and she told me to stay home so she can further her career and sense I could not find a job that week I agreed but was only agreeing until I found a job! I was the only one at the time to own a car so I let her take the car to work while I was stuck at home with no transportation but that didn’t matter to me I just kept looking. My wife worked her position as a high rise manager right off of Michigan Avenue in Chicago and ended up getting pregnant with my second child a boy so know I was obligated to take care of 2 children and was told by my wife that it would be cheaper to stay home and take care of both children and although I was reluctant I did it cause I wanted to be a good father and felt I should not neglect our children to a stranger, This was a conversation that me and my other had so here I was stuck doing the right thing for my kids but not knowing that my other was setting me up to become a stay home dad for a long time! I am not trying to make her look bad but I also didn’t know what was on her mind so one year later she ends up getting pregnant again and we had another little girl and I was totally freezing out cause now I was in a position that I seen no way out of so I can help myself in finding a job and every time we had a conversation it always turned out the same! She killed my car and I swear it was on purpose cause all of a sudden she would not pay for any repairs but before the car broke down she came into some money her aunt left her and her other 2 siblings well over 100.000 and we went to buy a vehicle so I can take the children places and shopping, the vehicle is in our name her as a co-signer me as owner but the time we were looking she kept telling me the car was for me and of course I was delighted thinking she was making up for the other car that I owned and let her use to go to and from work. She gets a couple of raises and used some of the money she got that her aunt willed her to put down on a house and we moved to this house! She still don’t want me to work yet now she is telling me she wants to live her life, This threw me a curb ball! She has a drinking problem that we have been arguing for years, takes off at night sometimes when the kids are sleeping and sometimes when they are up, my poor children are starting to cry cause she leaves at night most of the time and comes home in the morning and this don’t hurt me but only hurts me cause I see my kids in pain wanting their mother to be with them but somehow this does not bother her. She has a drinking problem , she comes home and is a wonderful person to be around until she takes her first couple of drinks then she is totally someone different and you could not recognize her if you have seen both people at different times, she gets verbally abusive and hateful for no reason, take nothing to tick her off and I mean nothing! This story is so long that I haven’t the time to tell it! But if there is anyone that can give advise or help me please do so I am in a bad situation and so are my kids.

    For what it is worth, these stories are similar. Just 5 minutes ago a man told me his wife picked up and left. Just like that. There is usually a man attached to this scenario. Watch for it. The second place villain is a girlfriend telling her she can so better without you. Seldom happens. Problem is the children suffer terribly.
    The women don’t put the children first. Men, above ALL, continue to take care of your babies. The wife will never understand the impact this has on children. Speak with other men going through this. There is a common theme. Don’t spoil your children but be a real dad all the way through.

    I’ve been a SAHD for 11 yrs and now i being bashed consistently by my wife’s actions. She’s breaking the commissioners ruling, that is yet vaige, but getting away with it. The G.A.L when I spoke with her spoke of my wife as the Saint and I’m the one being the issue. Yet my understanding was a G.A.L was supposed to be neutral.

    we have been married 7 years, both have taken the rolls as stay at home parents at one point, she now works a full time job 12hrs a day, i have the responiblity of school, sports and appointments. she has now met somone else and wants a divorce. i just moved to this state where i ha e no friends or family for support, all i have is my childern, she is trying to force me out of the house, she has no time for our childern, 10am to 10pm she works. im not sure what my rights are

    Dude I’m with you I hope things work out for you. If you ever need a brother to talk to 9255801483

    I was force into the stay home father position because the mother has tenure at her company and she didn’t have any parenting skills. After ten years in this position, what I thought would happen, has happen. She has found someone else. Now she wants me out and has cut me off from everything. No Money, No Jobs, No Sex, No car and soon, no place to call home. Any help for me out there?

    stress stay at home dad
    California, I have a verbally abusive wife that abuses my 4 yr old and me. She is always belittling me everywhere. I have many hours of voice recording and making her acknowledge she is being recorded which she doesn’t care. I do have a felon record due to her side of the family that are drug dealers and till this day they still are. I do have a hard time seeking night jobs because it doesn’t last long or the night is killing because I don’t get enough of sleep. My wife does try to brainwash my 4 yr old, and at time go on all day with anger and verbal abuse to us. We do have a 21 yr old son that has been brainwashed and at times go against me, but I put my foot down on him. But he comes back saying he’s going to hurt me when I go to divorce court. I feel I’m pinned against the ground. I feel like running away, and just disappear. I have also a 19 yr old daughter, she lives with boyfriend. Because I refuse to let her have a boyfriend over school. Yes, all kids from same woman. I am feeling hopeless. I have spoken to attorneys and they tell me it will be a +$8000.00 battle. We do have the house paid for, but it’s worth about $170,000. I feel we may lose it all just because she wants to see me in the gutter.

    I am going through the exact same thing right now so I wish I could give you advice but I can only wish you the best I also have charges and my 3yr old daughter is my life! So I hope everything works out for you and I know it’s not advice but it is nice to know there are other good dad’s out there going through the same situations lol you know what I meant! Just wanted to say I understand! Hang in there and best of luck to you!

    stay at home dad
    I have been a stay at home dad for 9 years raising our three children so my wife could work at her high paying job. My wife filed a PFD on Monday. As a result, I am not able to see my kids or go near my house. My wife also hijacked my e-mail account. We are scheduled to see the judge on Thursday. HELP!

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