With a headline of “Men become richer after divorce” adorning a page in the Observer recently, I felt compelled to write a response to Amelia Hill’s article, which was published this weekend on the paper’s letters page.
The initial piece was based upon research carried out by Professor Stephen Jenkins, a director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and chair of the Council of the International Association for Research on Income and Wealth.
It began with a blunt finding from Professor Jenkins’ report – “divorce makes men – and particularly fathers – significantly richer. When a father separates from the mother of his children his available income increases by around one third. Women, in contrast, suffer severe financial penalties. Regardless of whether she has children, the average woman’s income falls by more than a fifth and remains low for many years.”
As I have previously blogged, in the current economic climate the issue of ‘lump-sum’ settlements has become very important, as the marital wealth to be shared is worth substantially less than in previous years.
My letter read as follows:
“I am not surprised to learn that the average woman’s income plummets following divorce. As your report correctly highlights, the prognosis for many women is dire.
I may be able to shed some light on the revelation that just 31% of separated mothers receive payment from the father of their children. In some parts of the country, it is almost commonplace for wives to agree to a cheap, “clean break”, a one-off payment that ends a husband’s obligation to pay ongoing maintenance.
This option may seem attractive at the outset, but I believe that in many cases, a clean break is not advisable for a wife, especially if her ability to earn is limited because she is caring for children. Ongoing maintenance allows the income of the divorced spouse to increase in line with the former partner’s earned income over the years to come, for as long as it is needed.
It is worth noting that unmarried women cohabitants on low incomes fare even worse than their married counterparts when relationships break down. There is still no legal redress at all for financial hardships sustained by the weaker partner as a result of cohabitation.”