Are Working Women Giving Men a Fair Divorce?

Most Settlements Still Skewed in Favour of Women

In every walk of life, there has been a drive towards sexual equality over recent decades. So why do divorce courts still take such a chivalrous view?

Walk into any public forum and suggest that women should receive preferential treatment because they are women, and you will probably be castigated for having attitudes that belong in a bygone age. And rightly so, this is the age of enlightenment and sexual equality.

We are, after all in the 21st century. Salary gaps are steadily shrinking between genders, and in a growing number of households, the main breadwinner is female. So why is it that London divorce lawyers are still seeing divorce settlements stacked so heavily in favour of women?

High Income Mums

Recent research by the Institute of Public Policy Research showed that one in three UK mothers is now the highest earner in the household. This does, of course, include single parent households where the mother is the sole breadwinner, but it still means that in around ten per cent of marriages, the wife earns more than the husband.

Compare this with the fact that less than five per cent of divorce settlements involve payments from the wife to her ex-husband, and it becomes clear that something somewhere is not quite right.

Outdated Attitudes

The British court system is not famous for its modern and progressive attitudes, and so it might come as no surprise that outdated attitudes are on display. However, it would be disingenuous to put all the blame on a clichéd image of stuffy court judges protecting the interests of defenceless ladies.

The truth is that there is a fine line between chivalry and chauvinism, and the divorcing parties are often guilty of outdated attitudes themselves.

Even if the divorce is not acrimonious, it is unlikely that either party will be going out of its way to offer up more money than it has to. And the truth is that many men still feel it is “unmanly” to seek or expect payments from their ex-wife.

One lawyer remarked that even when the woman earns more than the man, there is a general acceptance that husbands should pay their ex-wives “something,” even if it is a nominal amount, rather than any payment being considered in the opposite direction.

Changing times

The good news is that there are signs of changes in attitudes. The entire British divorce system has been described as both outdated and unnecessarily painful for all concerned. There is pressure from various sides to reform settlements, including a bill tabled by Baroness Deech. This is seeking a cap on all maintenance payments, and recently passed its second reading in the House of Lords.

Baroness Deech feels that the changes are long overdue, and that reform will not only make processes fairer, but will also serve to strengthen sexual equality and attitudes towards single women.

She remarked: “If there is one thing that stops women getting back on their feet and being treated seriously and equally, it is the assumption that once a woman is married she is somehow disabled and incapable ever of managing on her own for the rest of her life. It is a very serious impediment to equality.”

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