Can A Stay-at-home Spouse Get Back Pay?

In a recent Washington Post article, Miriam Berger reported on a ruling by a divorce court in Beijing China. The court ruled that the wife, who had been a stay-at-home spouse, was entitled to back pay for her unpaid domestic work. This is a first of its kind ruling in China, where divorce filings have spiked since the COVID-19 pandemic started. 

         The Court ordered the husband to pay is wife spousal support in the amount of 2,000 yuan per month and awarded an additional one-time payment of 50,000 yuan for the wife’s unpaid labor during the marriage. It should be noted that 50,000 yuan is approximately $7,700.00. According to the article it is unclear how widespread these kinds of rulings may become. Especially since, worldwide, unpaid domestic duties fall disproportionately on women.

         While the article paints this ruling as groundbreaking, the law in Virginia has long given credit to spouses who maintain the home while the other pursues their career. Section 20-107.2 of the Code specifically directs a divorce court to weigh the positive and negative monetary and nonmonetary contributions to the marriage when dividing property between divorcing couples.

         Examples of positive nonmonetary contributions include cleaning and maintaining the household, providing meals, and caring for and raising the children of the marriage. The theory is that when one spouse concentrates on the household, the other has more time to freely pursue their career and, hopefully, provide positive monetary contributions to the marriage. This code section also protects the spouse, who may have been out of the job market for a considerable amount of time, when they find themselves no longer have the income provided by the other.

         While the consideration of positive nonmonetary contributions is not a direct repayment of “back pay”. It does allow the court to give credit for the unpaid work of one spouse during the marriage. China is not, necessarily on the forefront of this issue, Virginia has given credit to non-wage earning spouses for a long time.

Richard E. Garriott, Jr. is a member of the Virginia Beach law firm of Garriott | Maurer, PLLC, where he handles a full range of family law matters, including divorce, child custody, property settlement and premarital and postmarital agreements. Mr. Garriott accepts clients throughout southeastern Virginia.

Mr. Garriott is a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer’ s, a fellow in the International Academy of Family Lawyers, as well as a Fellow In the Virginia Law Foundation and the American Bar Association Foundation. He was also named as a member of the 2009 class of Virginia’s Leader’s in the Law. Along with the top rating of AV Preeminent* from Martindale-Hubbell, he has been included in The Best Lawyers in America** and was selected by Virginia Business magazine in since 2011 as one of Virginia’s Legal Elite in the family and domestic relations category. He has been included in The Best Lawyers in America since 2013. He has been named as one of Virginia’s Top 100 Lawyers by Superlawyers since 2015.

Mr. Garriott is a member of various bars and associations, including the Virginia Family Law Coalition and is a Past President of The Virginia Bar Association. He is active in the I’Anson-Hoffman chapter of the American Inns of Court. Having a strong belief in giving back to his community, Mr. Garriott donated his time on the advisory boards for the Mission of the Holy Spirit Shelter and the Seton Youth Shelter to help inner-city families and at-risk youth, and served as Chairman of the City of Virginia Beach Board of Zoning Appeals.


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