When a Family Law Court decides how to divide the property pool, it compares the contributions that each spouse made to the marriage. Some contributions, including earned income that was used to acquire property, are financial. Other contributions, including childcare, are nonfinancial.
When the court compares contributions, it can take into account the special skills that enabled a spouse to acquire property for the family. The role that special skills will play is becoming less important as courts compare the “skills” of income earners and homemakers.
Nearly every spouse has some sort of skill that contributes to the marriage. Work skills allow an employed spouse to earn income that is used to make mortgage payments and to purchase family assets. Raising children, keeping a house clean and orderly, and preparing meals also require some level of skill.
Not all contributions are equal. Courts recognize that some homemakers do very little to help the marriage while others are wholly committed to raising a family. Some employed spouses prefer to spend time in pubs instead of working hard to add income to the family coffers. Others work overtime, pursue additional training, and take advantage of opportunities for career advancement that benefits the family unit. Courts take all those factors into account when they compare contributions.
Until recently, Family Law Courts were inclined to reward people whose “special skills” or diligent effort caused the value of the property pool to increase. Those courts believed that workers should receive a greater share of the property pool if their special skills or hard work allowed the family to accumulate more property than a typical worker would have contributed.
Recent cases point to the diminished importance of the “special skills” factor when valuing contributions. Courts have pointed out that a special skills analysis almost always assigns greater value to the breadwinner’s financial contributions than to a homemaker’s nonfinancial contributions.
Courts are increasingly recognizing the unfairness of that analysis, since the breadwinner would not be able to earn the same income and experience the same career growth without the assistance of a homemaking spouse who takes responsibility for raising the children, doing the laundry, and freeing the breadwinning spouse from all the other chores that would inhibit his or her ability to pursue a career.
In one recent case involving a 36 year marriage and a $10 million property pool, the husband argued that he should receive 70% of the property because his hard work and special skills as an investor were responsible for the couple’s wealth. Recognizing that a marriage of that length is often an equal partnership in which the partners play different roles, the court divided the property pool equally without regard to the husband’s special skills.