Academic journal article Texas Journal of Women, Gender, and the Law

Why Are Divorced Mothers Economically Disadvantaged? and What Can Be Done about It?

Academic journal article Texas Journal of Women, Gender, and the Law

Why Are Divorced Mothers Economically Disadvantaged? and What Can Be Done about It?

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

In this number one, Grammy-winning song, Kanye West and Jamie Foxx play on the stereotype of women being "gold diggers" by delivering a warning to men about women who seduce men into marriage and have children in order to take their money. The song paints women as using their children and divorce to extort money from men.

In the lyrics to the song, the man gives the woman money to buy toys for their children and she instead uses it for liposuction and plastic surgery. (West comments that the she was "supposed to buy your shorty [child] Tyco [toys] with your money," but instead "went to the doctor and got 'lipo' with your money" and is now "walking around looking like Michael [Jackson]." The woman in the song even lies about the paternity of her child, resulting in the man supporting the child for 18 years until he discovers he is not the father. West urges his male audience to get a prenuptial agreement. (The lyrics say: "If you ain't no punk, holla: We Want Prenup. WE WANT PRENUP!") He tells men that a prenuptial agreement is something that they need to have because otherwise "when she leave yo' ass, she gonna leave with half."

While hardly an academic rumination on child support, alimony, and property division upon divorce, this song's popularity is nonetheless telling and significant. This song brings to light many of the misconceptions concerning divorced mothers and the allocation of family income that pervade our society, our courtrooms and our laws. The fact that the song gained such immense popularity2 and critical acclaim3 (West went on to win three Grammy Awards and become one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World4) shows that the song undoubtedly struck a chord.

Yet what many listeners may not realize is how grossly skewed the portrayal is compared to the typical divorced woman in America. While there may be women who fit the stereotype of the "gold digger" in West's song, this portrayal is not indicative of the situation of most divorced mothers, since most divorced mothers in this country do not benefit economically from their divorce or their status as a mother.

In fact, divorced mothers bear a disproportionate economic burden from divorce.5 As one study has shown, having a child creates a gender gap in wealth between divorced men and women, while there is no substantial difference in net worth between never-married mothers and never-married fathers.6 This is likely because most women are the primary caretakers of their children following divorce and oftentimes, since many fathers fail to comply with child support orders, their principal financial contributors.7

As a result, "[p]overty in families headed by divorced women not only is more common than poverty in two-parent households but it is also more likely to be chronic."8 Indeed, "40 percent of divorced mothers end up in poverty."9 And the problem is only growing worse. The number of households headed by single mothers has risen dramatically in the United States in recent decades from 3 million in 1970 to 10 million in 2000.10

This article will explore possible reasons why divorced mothers in our country seem to suffer such an economic disadvantage and will also attempt to provide several possible solutions for lessening or even eliminating this economic disadvantage.

II. Are the Economic Difficulties of Divorced Motheres Merely a Result of Their Gender Independent of Their Status As Mothers?

With much publicity surrounding the gender wage gap and sex discrimination in our country, one might speculate that the economic disparity between divorced mothers and fathers can be explained solely by the difference in their sexes. The following section will show that, while the differences upon divorce are a function of gender, these differences do not exist solely because of gender independent of status as a parent, since childless divorced women and men share similar financial situations at divorce. …

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