When being the family breadwinner can cost everything

Divorce|April 19th 2012

“What did she THINK was going to happen with the children if she wasn’t the main or even equal carer?”

“It seems to me that this is exactly what men have been complaining of over the last few years as they are usually the breadwinners of the family.”

“You can’t have equality when it suits you and not when it doesn’t.”

In my previous post I mentioned that I was interviewed for a feature that appeared in The Times on Saturday. The piece seems to have struck a nerve: the online version  is continuing to attract comments, some of which I have shared above.

The feature is about female breadwinners, whose marriages break down – and who are horrified to discover what happens next:

“Margaret…and her husband of 25 years got divorced. They have one son, aged 17, about to leave school and head off to university. They didn’t feel they needed to argue over custody as their son was happy to move back and forth between his two parents. They agreed to split the house. The four bedroom house was sold off, Margaret moved to a smaller place. “I thought it was all fine, until my husband started demanding half of my pension and my bonus,” she says. “That’s when I started to feel aggrieved.”

“Her view is that her husband didn’t deserve 50 per cent of what she had spent years putting aside. “I’ve worked in IT for 25 years,” she says. “I have slogged away doing a job I’ve never particularly enjoyed in order to keep our house going and keep us afloat.””

In a recent post, Divorce and the Breadwinner: some straight talking, I detailed the challenges that face a family’s main earner – male or female – if the marriage breaks down. The breadwinner may bitterly resent having to continue to fund the lifestyle of a stay-at-home parent with the proceeds of their hard work.

Indeed, the high-earning case studies featured in the Times were, to a woman, bewildered to discover what they faced to lose if they divorced. “It was too devastating to contemplate”, says one, told that the family courts might agree to the children staying with her former husband. “It seems very unfair”, says another about having to pay child maintenance.

In the Times article I make my own views clear, with similar sentiments to the commenters’:

“Women need to realise it is now getting far more common for them to earn more than their husbands. I see countless women who work hard and earn a lot of money and they have become contemptuous of their stay-at-home partner.

“Sex and respect go out of the window and they file for divorce and then they are amazed and stunned when their partner wants 50:50 of pretty much everything. This, in turn, amazes and stuns me. Of course this happens. It’s the law of the land.”

“Women said they wanted equal rights and now they are complaining about it. Men have been in this system for years, many of them complaining that their wives don’t deserve their high payouts either.”

As much as I sympathise with the women’s plights, this is the 21st century. Should female breadwinners expect the law to treat them any differently from how it treats their male counterparts?

In the article I make it clear that if you believe you could find yourself in this position, you should take legal advice sooner rather than later. Many high-earning men plan the outcome of a divorce – years before the final separation, in some cases – and the benefits of doing this apply equally to high-earning women!

Author: Marilyn Stowe

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

Comments(6)

  1. The Other Mike D says:

    Excellent Article!!! Well Done.

  2. Vicky says:

    I have numerous friends who have divorced, it is quite well accepted that they stay at home spouse should be financially supported after the split purely on the basis of the dedication to running the home, kids, entertaining the business contacts and anything else that the role requires. Yet when the boot is on the other foot it is perceived that if a woman earns she should be able to keep it. Maybe we don’t want equality anymore we want our lives, our jobs, our kids and our money and the real thought when it all goes wrong is thats mine. Do we want equality or do we want everything ?

  3. Churchill says:

    Call me a nit picker if you will. However, the phrase “should be financially supported” is surely misleading. Wealth created by either partner in a marriage ‘belongs’ to the marriage not an individual within the marriage. When the relationship breaks down and the parties have to finance separate lives, the wealth is split for that purpose. It is not a case of one party or other providing some form of largesse. The couple married to create a life together. One aspect of that life was the creation of wealth to house, feed and entertain. Another would be to care for the home and children and spouse. Different yes, unequal, no; not in the eyes of our family law at least. If a divorcing husband or wife dislikes the prospect of sharing in line with the post White\McFarlane\Miller cases, it isn’t going to change the law. It’s the way it is – for now at least.

  4. Vicky says:

    You miss understod my point / statement. I was trying to point out that society as a whole accepts that a stay at home wife is supported financially if there is divorce yet a stay at home husband is somehow seen as a sponger if he receives a share of the wealth or maintance after divorce. It was not a comment on the position of the law per se more a reflection on our outlook as a society and in particular that of professional women. In essence I am commenting on my own demograph.

  5. Observer says:

    The fact that there are a couple women every year who find themselves in this situation should highlight the inanity of the terms Resident Parent and Non-RP, and the awful way in which Non-RPs in this country are treated as sub-human financial providers who must pay for the privilege of being a bi-monthly visitor with no influence over any decisions made about his children.

    I look forward to a time when ambitious working women join the ranks of F4J in challenging a thoroughly outdated family justice system.

  6. Observer says:

    Churchill – what wealth? You assume that families accumulate wealth? Maybe yours does?! I think in the majority of cases they are rather trying to make ends meet from one month to the next, and this is what often causes divorce. To then reduce support-paying dad to a bedsit where it is inappropriate to have his kids visit, whilst mom (who clearly found the divorce route more attractive because it would guarantee a degree of financial autonomy) has it all is just tantamount to unfairness.

    Never mind all the ill effects that accompany children being raised by single parents.

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