As International Women's Day approaches, it is timely to reflect on the contribution that women make to society, but also how that contribution is valued under Australian law.
Whilst women are participating in the paid workforce at higher rates than ever before, there is still inequality in women's earnings and one of the factors that contribute to this inequality, is women traditionally taking on the role of homemaker and parent in domestic relationships.
The decision for one parent to withdraw from the paid workforce, which is typically made jointly, prioritises the needs of the home or family over the financial security and independence of the 'stay-at-home' parent. For many women, the decision to take on primary care responsibilities, whilst rewarding, has long term economic implications which arise from their interrupted participation in the workforce.
It is for this reason that when considering how to divide the assets of a relationship following separation under the Family Law Act 1975, the Court gives the same consideration to the homemaking and parenting contributions made by a 'stay-at-home mother' to the financial contributions made by the father which are usually derived from wages or a salary.
This approach addresses not only the value of the child-rearing contributions made by women but also the economic impact that their withdrawal from the workplace has on their future financial security particularly in circumstances where they experience a relationship breakdown.
Interestingly, this approach also recognises the 'partnership' that exists between spouses in that if it wasn't for the woman's contribution by staying home to look after the children and the home, it is likely that the other party would not have been be able to dedicate as much time to their job and thereby make as much of a financial contribution to the family.
The Court also takes into account each party's "future needs" which again considers the impact that caring responsibilities and withdrawing from the paid workforce have on women and on a stay-at home mother's ability to re-establish themselves after separation and earn an income that supports their needs.
The approach adopted by the Family Law Act goes at least some way in recognising and placing value on parenting and homemaking contributions and protecting women from the financial impact that gender inequality in paid employment has following separation or family breakdown.
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