As a growing number of New York men choose to stay home with their children, gender norms are definitely being tested in the divorce arena. We all know what happens when parents split and mom stayed home, but what happens when the traditional gender roles are turned upside down? In many cases, these situations are causing challenges for fathers’ rights advocates, who say that men suffer just as many social and economic barriers when they attempt to reenter the workforce.

Fathers tell anecdotes about their storybook marriages that simply fell apart. One 51-year-old New Yorker explained that he felt like he had been fired when his wife left him in 2005. Like many stay-at-home spouses, the man had failed to put aside money for himself in case of such an emergency; his wife was an attorney who worked long hours outside the home. Again, like many women, the man says he felt humiliated after his wife left, thinking that his contribution to the family meant nearly nothing.

What happened next, though, surprised him; local women who had been in the same situation banded together to create a network of support for the man as he worked through child custody and other divorce issues. That critical social support system — which even included a wardrobe makeover — allowed the man to regain his confidence for the rest of his legal travails.

Ultimately, the man was forced to move back to New York City from London in order to see his children, as his wife had obtained a profitable job there. Now, he shares custody with his ex-wife. He knows this is in the best interests of the child, but he still misses being a full-time parent. Further, the man is still struggling to define himself, as he is consistently forced to explain large gaps in his resume due to staying at home with the children.

Although this man had a divorce settlement that is adequately providing for his needs, many do not receive the child support and other financial help they require, simply because of gender norms. Those men may be the real victims of our divorce system, which is not always known for treating mothers and fathers equally. Fathers’ rights should include considerations about the dad’s relationship with the child, especially if the man was a stay-at-home parent.

Source: The New York Times, “A Stay-at-Home Dad’s Dilemma, When the Marriage Ends” Jodi Kantor and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Dec. 12, 2013