If you're considering leaving your job to become a stay-at-home mom, please do yourself—and your marriage—a favor: Get a postnup. You and your husband should sign a postnuptial agreement, one that clearly specifies how you would be compensated for forfeiting your highest-earning years should the marriage end in divorce.
In happy times, staying at home with the kids may seem reasonable, comfortable and manageable.
But what happens if the marriage hits the skids? Will a divorce settlement include compensation for the wife who left her career to be home with the kids? And when she's a single woman again, will the stay-at-home mom be able to slide right back into a job like her old one (with similar pay and benefits)?
Don't count on it.
Everyone has heard of prenuptial agreements. A prenuptial agreement (or "prenup," for short) is a legal document signed before a couple is married. It details what the couple's property rights and expectations would be upon divorce.
A postnuptial agreement can accomplish those same goals, but as the name implies, a postnup is negotiated and signed after a couple is already married.
(Read more: 6 retirement myths you need to ignore)
Why is it so important for a stay-at-home mom to have a postnup? Here are my top three reasons:
Prenups and postnups help form the foundation of a happy marriage.
I understand how, at first, it may be difficult to believe that negotiating a postnup could actually make your marriage happier, but it's true.
"Money" is often cited as one of the top reasons for tension in a marriage. It's extremely difficult to agree about what to spend, how much to save, when/where to invest, etc. Why add arguments about career paths and earning potential to this volatile mix? Have those difficult conversations now, while you have a clear head—not years down the road, when you're feeling frustrated after reading about a colleague's big promotion while you stayed up all night with a kid who has a stomach bug.
As you draw up your postnup, both you and your husband can thoughtfully consider important factors, such as the amount of salary you're sacrificing and the value (in dollars and cents) of the childcare you're providing.
Because your postnup clearly defines the issues surrounding your decision to leave your job, it's likely you'll find it strengthens your marriage. It can blunt future disagreements and will form the basis for continued constructive dialogue about your family finances.
A woman's child-rearing years are usually her highest-earning years.
There's no mistaking the cruel timing here. For most women, the phase of life devoted to child-rearing and the phase of life devoted to corporate-ladder-climbing tend to overlap.
(Read more: Awkward teens have a pay disadvantage later in life)
So, when you leave the workforce to become a stay-at-home mom, you'll also be walking away from a career that is just starting to gain traction. Unfortunately, you won't be able to rewind the clock and get that time back. A postnup establishes how you'll be financially compensated for those "lost years" if you and your husband end up divorcing.
When a stay-at-home mom re-enters the workforce, she'll probably earn less than she did before.
Let's say you work exclusively as a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. During that decade, you'll sacrifice more than just paychecks and promotions. You'll also lose out on contacts and networking opportunities, and with the exponential advancements in technology these days, your skills will likely become rusty or obsolete. In short, your résumé will suffer as the workplace continues to evolve (without you). Put all of this together, and it's clear that after your stint as a stay-at-home mom, your earning potential will be significantly diminished.
I've heard divorcing husbands chide their wives with mistaken statements like, "Before you stayed home you were making $50,000 a year, so you can go out and get a job for that, if not more" and "Well, it's not my fault. It was your choice. You wanted to have children. You wanted to stay home with them. You could have gone out and worked, and in the meanwhile I was busting my rear end, and why are you entitled to any of this?"
Of course, these husbands are choosing to ignore the way the real world works—and comments like these just underscore why I feel postnups for stay-at-home moms are so absolutely critical.
(Read more: Should you superfund your 529 savings?)
If you are ready to explore the option of a postnup, talk to a family law attorney and a divorce financial expert for advice. Do it for yourself, and for the health of your marriage.
Jeff is the author of the new book, Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally–What Women Need To Know About Securing Their Financial Future Before, During, And After Divorce and the founder of Bedrock Divorce Advisors, LLC, a divorce financial advisory firm, and Think Financially, Not Emotionally®, a website created to educate, empower and support women before, during and after divorce.
All articles/blog posts are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, retain a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author, who is not an attorney.
—By Jeff Landers, contributor, TODAY.com/money.