I answered my cell the other day while driving home. The prospective client was noticeably upset, complaining that her fiancé, Rich, was “coercing“ her into signing a prenuptial agreement. She objected that a prenup was a surefire way to ensure that they split up. “Negotiating the terms of your divorce before you marry guarantees that you will ultimately end up there!”
As a divorce lawyer, I certainly saw her concern. Rich is a doctor. He has two jobs and over a million dollars of student loan debt. They already live together (she moved in with him), with their baby and her seven-year-old son from a prior relationship. Her son’s father makes no financial contributions whatsoever to his support.
Rich’s parents had been divorced and so had hers. They both recounted family accounts of one parent cleaning the other out in that process. Those were their perceptions, anyway. They were kids when the divorces happened, so who knows?
But money has meaning for people, and that meaning differs for people. Not only that, but money is really scary to talk about. . . for most of us. (There are entire books that deal with this; one in particular, written for therapists by a respected expert in business, financial, and relational issues, Money and Meaning describes a framework and the tools to create a safe environment for people to have those conversations and resolve conflicts . . . about money.)
Prenup? No Way.
So Kelly was adamantly anti-prenup. I asked her more questions. As it turns out, Kelly had taken maternity leave from her job as a registered nurse (that’s how they met) but never returned to work. When they’d discussed it, her fiancé assured her he’d be happy to support her if she wanted to stay home with the baby. They talked around the possibility that she’d eventually return to work but had never agreed on a specific time frame.
As Kelly continued to detail her story, her resentment spilled out. “He leaves me with the baby every day to go to work. He returns to a gorgeous home I decorated but he owns, where I clean and cook for him, to a baby who is well-rested, well-fed, happy, and healthy, and a son (his stepson) who adores him. After dinner and on weekends, he retreats to his home office to work his second job. I keep the kids occupied while he does that.”
So I asked, “What’s he trying to protect with a prenup? Do you know?”
Bitterly, she responded, “He wants to protect whatever he can save and the house, which he bought before we got together and which is in his name. . . solely.”
My next question popped out, no filter. “Have you told him what you want?”
The phone went dead. I thought I’d lost the connection but, when I glanced at it, she was still there. I prompted her. “You know, a contract is a two-way street. You can ask him to agree to certain things, too. Have you thought about that?”
She considered. Finally, tears in her voice, she replied, “I don’t know what I want.”
I said the next thing to occur to me. “How about a salary?”
“What?” She paused and I waited. “I could never ask for that. He gives me whatever I want, whatever I need.” Then she hesitated. “I could never . . . I can’t even . . . .” She didn’t finish.
“You can’t even what?” I encouraged her to complete the thought.
She sobbed aloud. “I can’t even ask for permission to buy deodorant until it’s absolutely necessary. How do I ask for a salary? You pay someone with a job a salary. You don’t pay your wife….” Her voice trailed off.
Isn’t It a Job?
Kelly made a good point. Is “homemaker” or “housewife” a real job? I looked it up. “A homemaker is a person who manages the household of his or her own family, especially as a principal occupation.” So it is a job?
According to ZipRecruiter, as of Jan 28, 2021, the average annual pay for a “homemaker” is $23,773/year, or approximately $11.43/hour.
But let’s think about that. That doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? The life of a homemaker or a stay-at-home parent includes never-ending demands and to do lists. Depending on the size of his home, family, pets and many other variables, a stay-at-home parent works seven days a week, perhaps as many as 14 hours/day. Add to that that a homemaker wears many hats and must master many skills. He often serves as a teacher, coach, driver, maid, nurse, housekeeper, and chef, and that’s just for starters.
Thus, if homemakers were actually compensated appropriately for their services, they might well earn more than $170,000 annually.
Should Homemakers Be Paid? If So, How Much?
I’m not alone in wondering whether stay-at-home parents should be compensated for their roles in the home. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly one in five U.S. adults are stay-at-home parents, with the number of dads staying home increasing slightly as time passes.
So how should we quantify the value of the stay-at-home services? Perhaps by examining the value of each service individually?
Personal Chef – According to PayScale, head chefs earn as much as $65 an hour. Assume three hours a day to prepare meals and snacks and that’s approximately $5,800/month.
Personal Shopper – Assume grocery delivery services charge a $20 delivery fee, and a homemaker shops twice a week, that’s $173/month spent on simply getting groceries, nevermind putting those groceries away.
Housekeeper – Professionals often charge by the hour, number of rooms, or square footage of the home. According to Housekeeper.com, cleaners make $20 to $40/hour. Thus, an experienced maid, working four hours/day (homemakers are constantly tidying up) would make $4,480/month.
Child Care – The International Nanny Association says a live-in nanny earns, on average, $20/hour. For a 40-hour work week, a nanny would earn $3,200/month. (And professional child care providers usually require benefits in addition, including health insurance, paid vacation, and sick days and federal holidays off.)
Driver – A private car service might seem a luxury, but a homemaker performs this service daily. If you hire Dryver to provide drivers who use your own car to transport, it costs $22.95/hour. Stay-at-home parents, driving only six hours/day, seven days/week, would make nearly $4,000/month.
Laundry Service – Professional laundry services charge by the pound. According to Angie’s List, the average price to wash, dry, and fold everyday clothing is $3/pound. Homemakers doing just four pounds of laundry/day would make $360/month.
The Bottom Line
You can see that, while we might take the daily work of a stay-at-home parent for granted, these services could earn him or her a considerable wage in the marketplace. So what about Kelly and a salary for her? More on that in the next blog.
All couples have stormy periods, often caused by their baggage, by financial friction, or by stressful life events for which they were unprepared. Many can be weathered with dedication to the relationship and a commitment to work things out. Others can be avoided by advance life planning, with one professional expert or another, or an entire collaborative team. If you are planning a new life together or anticipate a stressful life event, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Open Palm Law. We are committed to helping your family find solutions, regardless of which process you choose to get you there.
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About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.