Last week a journalist from the Sunday Times rang me wanting to know my take on the case of Rupert Nightingale.
He was the househusband who hit the headlines after he was given permission to appeal his maintenance award. Mr Nightingale’s ex-wife, Kirsten Turner, earned £420,000 as a partner at accountancy giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers – also known as PwC – while he stayed at home, pursuing an interest in photography and looking after their daughter.
When the couple’s marriage came to an end, Mr Nightingale was awarded a lump sum of £300,000, along with maintenance of £50,000 per year. But the lump sum was to be funded by sale of the house and the maintenance payment was discounted by his estimated earning capacity: i.e. the judge expected him to set aside the photography and find a job.
He was unhappy with this award and is now seeking undiscounted maintenance and the right to stay in former matrimonial home.
In her exploration of the case, journalist Eleanor Mills takes an admirably even-handed approach. She acknowledges the contradictory attitudes displayed by many women who find themselves in the still socially unfamiliar but increasingly common role of female breadwinner. Used to thinking of equality with men wholly in terms of gain, they are shocked when they discover that are downsides too: one being the obligation to financially support a financially dependent ex-partner, for years after the end of the marriage. Intellectually, they may know that that still relatively novel figure, the househusband, deserves some reward for swapping his career for years of cooking and childcare, but emotionally they may resent every penny and look down on their ex as, to quote a friend of the journalist’s, “a lazy scrounger”.
Would such women have the same attitude to stay-at-wives seeking hefty payouts from wealthy ex-husbands? I suspect many would not.
Two years ago I noted such double standards in an earlier interview with the Times, on the rise of the female breadwinner.
As I said at the time:
“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.”
And as I told Eleanor Mills last week, society is changing and the divorce courts are following suit. Something like 25 per cent of women now earn more than their partners and no less than 1.4 million men across the country now see themselves as the primary provider of childcare in their families.
I suspect the female breadwinner will become ever more prevalent as the years roll by and traditionally male industries retreat before the continuing advance of the service and professional industries in which so many women do well. High-flying career women who earn more than partners must understand the implications of their financial status, and prepare themselves, both legally and emotionally, for the likely consequences if their relationships come to an end.
Read the Sunday Times article here.