The Value of Services as Spouse and Parent. I took care of the house and the kids. Now Pay Up!


“The Value of Homemaker and Parental Caretaker Services”


When it comes time to divide up the marital assets in a divorce case an analysis is done of the respective direct (financial) and indirect (non-financial) contributions of the parties. A similar analysis is done in the calculation of alimony or spousal support.

For example, under the law of New York and many other American jurisdictions, the courts must consider the “contributions and services as a spouse, parent, wage earner and homemaker”. However, such “contributions and services” are only one factor in the court’s overall assessment of a marital asset division or alimony determination. The larger question is whether such services have intrinsic and calculable value which should be compensated separately, in addition to other divorce awards involving the division of assets and alimony?


In China a husband was directed to pay his ex-wife $7,700 to compensate her for the five years she spent cooking, cleaning, raising children and nursing older relatives . This lump sum direction was in addition to the Court’s award of monthly alimony to the ex-wife, as well as an equal division of the marital assets. This historic decision followed the enactment of a new civil code in China which, in part, allowed divorcing parties the right to seek compensation from their spouse when they perform more of the homemaker and parental caretaker duties.

According to Chinese newspapers this case has sparked a “heated debate about putting a monetary value on unpaid work – still mostly done by women-at-home", with the topic viewed by 400 million times on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. Many of the people who weighed in on the topic felt that the amount awarded (about $4.30 per day) was too little to cover the five years of housework and childcare. Such critics noted that globally women take on two-and-a-half times as much unpaid care-taking and household work as men - a circumstance which serves to continue stereotypes and impoverish women disproportionately. A recent study, using actual salary data, has indicated that if you are a stay-at-home parent/homemaker your medium average salary would be $178,201 for the host of services provided, many of which are performed around the clock.


It will be interesting to see if other countries around the world enact similar statutes or issue analogous court rulings with regard to the actual payment of such services. So far little has been seen except for occasional blips on the screen. In one New York case a clever but unsuccessful husband tried to turn the argument around, suggesting that his soon to be ex-wife should receive a smaller percentage of the marital assets because she never “cooked a meal, dusted a table or mopped a floor” – an argument ultimately rejected by the appellate court which decided the case.

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