Harsh world waiting for displaced homemaker

Pat Record Published: October 7, 1982
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Reality can be a cruel awakening for the displaced homemaker.

Now 25 million strong, she represent a generation of women who, after finding they married a myth as well as a man, must make the transition from homemaker to breadwinner.

It is not a new problem. Even in the 1950s, before divorce statistics began raising society's eyebrow, the number of displaced homemakers was near 5 million.

By 1976, the number doubled. In 1982, according to the American Association of University Women, another 13 million women joined their ranks.

But then, as now, society wrongly assumed that such women are taken care of. It assumes alimony, child suppport and retirement benefits are automatic if the woman is divorced or widowed, says Carmaleta Walker, coordinator of the Oklahoma City Vo-Tech Displaced Homemaker program.

"Those are myths," Walker said.

A recent study by the International Women's Year Commission showed that of 1,500 divorced women polled, 86 percent were not awarded alimony or child support payments. Of the 14 percent that were, only seven women actually collected those payments.

And of the 44 percent of divorced mothers who were awarded child support, only half reported they collected it regularly.

"Women In Transition," a handbook on divorce and separation, calls it the double burden of being poor and female.

Low income women are often forced to confront their husbands in court rather than through private attorneys to get support orders.

But because of the court expense, Walker said, little is usually done by Oklahoma women to force their husbands to keep up the payments.

"It's like getting blood out of a turnip for some of the women here. Their husbands quit work, skip town and there's no money for them to follow through on to take him to court," she said.

Not surprisingly, the labor market has been flooded with displaced homemakers.


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