Up until recently, with Covid-19, people had to physically go where the job or career opportunities were plentiful. (Since Covid-19 the need to physically move has stalled with the influx of the work at home options). And although, women are increasingly becoming the breadwinner in marriages, they still outnumber men when it comes to following their spouse to the new location for work. Women are more inclined to give up their job/career, friends and family, and all levels of security, to follow their man across the country or globe. A spouse who follows their spouse to a new relocation for the promise of a better life are referred to as “trailing spouses“. Divorce is more likely in trailing spouse cases than not.
What is Trailing Spouse
Trailing spouses is when a spouse follows their spouse to a new location for that spouse to pursue career opportunities. Unfortunately, however, marriages suffer at a rate of almost 50 % from the effects of the stress and strain presented by these circumstances. Depression among the trailing spouses skyrockets causing major breakdown of the marriage. Loneliness, disappointment, sadness, etc. all play a major role in the mental and emotional distress many experience.
Divorce is imminent in trailing spouse cases, which in turn leads to issues with custody, support and property distribution. I would like to explore how these issues play out in trailing spouses cases.
Trailing Spouse and Custody
A trailing spouse that relocates for their spouse’s job or career advancement may have a legitimate argument for relocation back to their hometown. Relocation custody cases are one of the most litigated aspects of child custody. Albeit, deciding the general terms of custody can be quite intense, making a ruling with respect to relocation can be more of a challenge. The courts use “the best interests of the child” factors to determine if relocation should be granted. These factors include the physical, mental and emotional well being of the child; the child’s relationship with each parent; any special needs of the child, just to name a few.
However, with respect to relocation the best interests standards vary slightly. The major consideration is the imposition relocation would put on the noncustodial parent-child relationship.
One significant factor considered in trailing spouse divorce relocation cases is the support system the custodial parent would have in the proposed city or state. A support system for the parent is a support system for the child, which presumes mental & emotional well-being and social stability. So a custodial parent seeking to go back “home”, assuming a familial & social circle exists there, has a better chance than if they chose a random “start over” location.
Trailing Spouse and Alimony
Alimony, or spousal support/maintenance, is awarded in divorce in an effort to “balance” the parties economic position. It’s purpose is to minimize the deleterious effects of going from a stable economic status to one of uncertainty due to divorce. Data reports that almost half of women experience a huge economic disadvantage upon divorce. And
although men can get alimony too, their ability to “catch up” post divorce is greater. Trailing spouse situations are apt for alimony demands based on this and other factors.
States differ in how they decide alimony. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act is the federal statute states use to base their alimony laws on. Each state uses the federal statute to come up with factors to consider in alimony determination. Those factors include the payee spouse’s earning potential; the standard of living enjoyed while the parties were married; the separate property of each party; child support obligations; the duration of the marriage and the ability of the payor spouse to support him/herself.
Trailing spouses can certainly make a case for alimony based on at least half these factors. For example, if the spouse developed depression as a result of the uproot, this can certainly impair their ability to become self sufficient. Depending on the specifics, underemployment or unemployment are definitely possible consequences of depression. Or, in instances where the trailing spouse is willing to give up the marital home and/or to forego other marital assets (i.e. pensions, vehicles,etc), this would be factored in as well. The overall focus is on what the trailing spouse gave up in order to move away to support their spouse.
In conclusion, trailing spouses sacrifice quite a bit and deserve to be compensated for their efforts. The courts don’t have explicit rules for cases like these, although they probably should, there are ways to argue your case accordingly.
What did you give up as a trailing spouse? What did you gain?
*Pt. II of Trailing Spouses and Divorce will be posted next week.