By David J. Draganosky, Esquire

David Draganosky

An interesting decision was recently entered by a Chinese divorce court, based on a new civil code, in which a wife requested financial compensation from her husband for doing housework and caring for the parties’ child during their marriage. The wife further complained that she was solely responsible for the housework and childcare as her husband “barely cared about or participated in any kind of domestic chores.” In what has been hailed a landmark decision, the divorce court in Beijing’s Fangshan district awarded the wife $7,700 as “housework compensation” for her efforts over the course of the parties’ five-year marriage, or roughly $4.22 per day.

Valuing a day’s worth of housework and childcare by a spouse at less than $5.00 per day is shocking to people in the United States where the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour). Not to mention, the average cost of a full-time (6 days per week) live-in nanny in Beijing is 6,000 yuan per month. Based on current exchange rates, that is the equivalent of about $900 per month or about $34.50 per day, working 6 days per week. So, based strictly on the information reported in the above article about this “landmark” decision, the efforts of a homemaker spouse are arguably worth 8 times less than the efforts of a nanny in Beijing. While it is easy to read an article, do some quick internet research and draw some conclusions about the inequity of the Chinese court’s decision, the reality is that not enough is known about this case to pass judgment on the outrageousness of the award to the wife. While not justifying the decision of the Chinese court, it is likewise not appropriate to outright condemn the award as there could be other factors at play that make it more palatable.

A review of Pennsylvania case law does not disclose any decisions in which the monetary value of housework and childcare provided by a homemaker spouse was calculated and an award was entered in dollars as compensation for same. Nonetheless, there is legal authority in Pennsylvania for compensating a homemaker spouse in a divorce. Specifically, the contributions of a spouse as a homemaker can and should be considered in the context of dividing the marital assets and/or awarding alimony.

In Pennsylvania, marital assets are divided based on the analysis of 11 factors as set forth in the Pennsylvania Divorce Code. Factor number 7 specifically provides for considering the contributions of a spouse as a homemaker. But, other factors which do not specifically mention the word “homemaker” also come into play. For instance, if the homemaker spouse left their employment to stay at home and raise a family, then that likely means that he or she has a diminished earning capacity as a result. Consequently, the amount and source of the homemaker’s income, and his or her vocational skills and employability, come into play based on factor number 3. Furthermore, because of the efforts of the homemaker spouse, it is likely that the other spouse was able to focus more on his or her career and consequently enjoys increased earnings, a consideration under factor number 4. Moreover, if the homemaker spouse is going to continue as the primary caretaker of minor children after the divorce, then that is a consideration under factor number 11. Applying these factors could result in a disproportionate award of the marital assets in favor of the homemaker spouse depending upon how they are weighed and balanced against the remaining factors.

Likewise, a spouse’s entitlement to alimony and the amount and duration of an alimony award is based on 17 factors contained within the Pennsylvania Divorce Code. Factor number 12, like the factors for dividing marital assets, specifically provides for considering the contributions of a spouse as a homemaker. Similarly, several of the remaining factors can be argued to emphasize and request compensation, in the form of alimony, for the efforts of the homemaker spouse.

While Pennsylvania law is equipped to consider and compensate a spouse for their efforts as a homemaker, it does not quantify the value of such contributions based on any defined number of dollars. Rather, it provides for the consideration of a spouse’s efforts as a homemaker as part of the overall division of marital assets and, if appropriate, the awarding of alimony.
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