Have you ever thought about why divorced mothers are typically considered the primary parent in custody arrangements?

Well, there are a few obvious answers. For instance, in the early and mid 20th century, mothers were considered the caregivers and homemakers. They were tasked with the responsibilities of raising children, taking care of a home, making meals, and basically providing anything and everything their husband might need. Traditionally speaking, husbands and fathers went to work to make money and had little to do with childcare or household chores. When divorces started to climb in the 1960s, it was standard for a mother to keep custody of the children and collect child support and/or alimony. It was also standard for the father to get weekend visits with the children and to pay said child support and/or alimony. Even when more women started to take on careers and other responsibilities in the 70s and 80s, the parenting agreements remained the same. As the divorce industry grew in the 90s, this type of arrangement, unfortunately, became normal.

Let’s fast-forward several decades. A lot has changed… but we still have some work to do. 

Gender Pay Gap and Single Parenting

More women than ever before are earning degrees. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data from 2019, the influx in recent decades of college-educated women has driven their numbers to record levels. In fact, the number of women working full time, year-round with a bachelor’s degree is almost equal to men. That’s 18 million women and 21 million men. Sounds like progress, right? Well… not so fast. Despite the closing gap in education, there is still a stereotype out there where men are the breadwinners and should earn more than women. Jennifer Cheeseman Day, a demographer in the Census Bureau’s Communications Directorate, shares data stating the gender pay gap is wider among men and women with a bachelor’s degree than among those without. Her research found: 

  • Among workers with a bachelor’s degree, women earn 74 cents for every dollar men make, which is less than the 78 cents for workers without the college degree.
  • While workers with a bachelor’s degree earn about double that of their co-workers without a college education, the difference between men’s and women’s earnings widens with more education.
  • Age and job choice can affect the size of the pay gap.

I believe that equal parenting by divorced and separated parents can actually help to lessen the gender pay gap. If we push for equality among women and men, we must include equal parenting in the fight too. 

The Benefit of Equal Parenting Agreements

One of my good friends and fellow shared parenting advocate is getting a lot of attention lately for extensive research she did on equal parenting and how it impacts the salaries of single mothers. Emma Johnson is truly making waves in this industry and I’m so honored to know her and help spread her message. As a journalist and activist, she recently wrote a piece for Elle magazine which went viral, and for good reason. Her article entitled, “I Thought I Won My Divorce. Then I Realized the Standard Custody Arrangement Is Court-Sanctioned Sexism,” is creating much needed conversation in the world of divorce and family law. As a divorced, single mother of two, she is sharing her experience to help others.

She writes, “like the majority of the 16 million single mothers in the U.S., I soon became the sole provider for my household, and carried the overwhelming brunt of the logistical, emotional, and time labor required of childrearing. Building a career, finding time to exercise, relax, hang out with friends or date is exponentially harder when child care is disproportionately on one parent’s shoulders.”

Emma is the founder of the brands WealthySingleMommy.com and Moms for Shared Parenting which have the attention single moms across the nation. She was recently a guest on my podcast, “Divorce, Healthy!” to discuss the findings in her new study which examined gender equality and time-sharing for separated and divorced parents. The Single Mom Income and Time-Sharing Survey polled 2,270 single mothers. It found that the more parenting time equality single moms share with their kids’ dads, the higher their income. Her research is fascinating. You can download the white paper here. Here are some of the key highlights:

  • Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are 54% more likely to earn at least $100,000 annually than moms whose kids are with them most of the time (with “visits” with the dad).
  • Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are more than three times (325%) more likely to earn $100,000 than single moms with 100% time with their kids.
  • 13%, or 1 in 8, single moms have a 50/50 arrangement — and 98% of them are content with it.
  • 51% of single moms surveyed have their children 100% of the time.
  • Equally shared parenting is popular with single moms: The majority of single moms, 53%, either already enjoy a 50/50 schedule, or wish they had it.
  • 9 in 10 single moms say they could earn more money if they had more equality in their parenting time.
  • Moms with 50/50 parenting time are 34% more likely (23% vs 15%) to say they feel “awesome and proud” of being a mom when compared with moms who care for their kids 100% of the time.

My Personal Perspective 

This research inspired me to add additional context from the perspective of a family law attorney and divorce culture expert. At my law firm, AN|R Law, I focus on alternative dispute resolution proceedings. With three locations across North Carolina in Greenville, Beaufort, and Raleigh, my team and I help our clients divorce in a healthy manner. Through collaborative law, mediation, and negotiation, we work with our clients to divorce through out-of-court settlement options. Without stepping foot into a courtroom, divorcing spouses can divide assets, create shared parenting agreements, and move on with their lives with respect and dignity. I’m passionate about this because I have a unique personal outlook.

I’m a child of a litigated divorce and I know the negative impacts associated with a courtroom divorce decided by a judge. You can read more about my traumatic childhood and the experience of my parents’ contentious divorce battle in this blog on my website. Their divorce truly changed everything about my life. Seeing how my parents approached conflict negatively affected the way that I handled disputes throughout the childhood and adult years. This impacted my personal friendships and romantic relationships. It didn’t have to be this way. If my parents would have agreed to equal parenting, I’m confident that my childhood would have been different and I would still have relationships with them today.

Reducing Sexism in Divorce

I believe that alternative dispute resolution divorce methods, like collaborative law, can change the way divorce is handled nationwide. It can also help parents become productive co-parents who are committed to equal parenting. I’m a board member for the National Parents Organization which is an advocate group for shared parenting. This organization is creating change across America while helping to introduce bills and legislation in several states. I also wrote the book, The Cure for Divorce Culture, to expose the myths about divorce as a spouse and parent. Through this platform, I show others the better way to divorce and incite transformation. Choosing out-of-court settlement options can reduce sexism and traditional gender roles in divorce and parenting agreements. Mothers don’t have to be considered the primary parent or sole parent and fathers don’t have to be the secondary parent or child support provider. Parents equally created their child and need to equally parent their child. Having the 50/50 parenting agreement will allow both spouses to move on with their lives as productive members of society while being committed parents.

With three offices in North Carolina, I’m on a mission to help spouses divorce in a healthy manner and practice positive co-parenting. My AN|R Law locations in Greenville, Beaufort, and Raleigh allow me to connect with families who are committed to equal parenting and respectful communication.  Click here to read more about my law practice and healthy methods for divorce including collaborative, mediation, and settlement.