What Are the Legal Rights of Women in Divorce?

By Anna Green
Courts, both genders, a divorce

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Men and women are afforded the same rights in a divorce. While divorce laws in previous decades treated men and women differently – for example, giving mothers preference for custody – modern law treats both genders equally. The court looks at each spouse's specific circumstances, including income, work schedule, ability to care for children and contribution to marital assets, when deciding all issues of divorce.

Property Division

Courts divide marital property according to one of two main standards. Equitable distribution is the system used in most states and it's based on what the judge believes is fair. For example, if a woman is the primary caregiver for the children, the court may award her the family home so the kids don't have to move. This may mean she receives more than half the couple’s assets, or she may have to give up other assets of equal value to equalize the distribution. A second standard of property distribution is the community property system under which both the man and woman typically receive a 50-50 share of marital property without taking other factors into consideration.

Child Support

Both men and women are entitled to child support if they're named the custodial parent. Child support calculations differ from state to state, but many incorporate parenting time and issues of health insurance coverage. Most states use the income shares model for calculating support and this strives to maintain a standard of living for the children comparable to what they would have enjoyed if their parents were still married.

Spousal Support

Like child support, gender is not a factor in whether a court awards alimony, sometimes known as spousal support or spousal maintenance. When making a spousal support determination, many courts consider how long the husband and wife were married and whether the wife supported her husband while he went to school or started a business. Likewise, the court may consider any exceptional needs of either spouse, such as a disability that limits earning potential.

Safety Protections

Before, during or after divorce, the court can provide either spouse with special safety protections, such as a restraining order, if the other is violent or threatens violence. If a husband is physically abusive to his wife, he may be barred from returning to the marital residence, even to pick up personal property, without a police escort. The court can also protect a woman’s address in a divorce proceeding if she is at risk of domestic violence. Her husband may only contact her through her attorney, if she has one, or the court system.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.