The Sunday Times: house husbands in the spotlight

Family|February 2nd 2015

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.

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comments(4)

  1. Rachel says:

    The whole point about this case is that Mr Nightingale has NOT been treated the same as women in the same situation. He has been treated significantly more harshly. However, the public are outraged that he should feel entitled to live off his ex-wife’s hard work!

    If a woman has not worked for some or all of a marriage and the husband earns a decent income, the courts will award maintenance, in many cases FOR LIFE, and the recipient will not be forced to ever work a day again. In this case, the Courts expect Mr Nightingale to get back out there and work straight away. I suspect that the outcome would have been very different if he were a woman. Stay-home mothers are treated as a special case by the paternalistic courts and are given preferential treatment compared to their hard-working sisters. Absolving these women of any need to work or ever resume financial responsibility is prioritised over everything else. You only need to read the horror judgement in McFarlane v McFarlane (first time round) to see how far the courts are willing to go in ensuring that stay-home mothers need never plan for their futures or get back to work. Once a kept-woman, always a kept-woman is enshrined in law now.

    Clearly this case of the role reversed husband has shown us that the way to create proper equality, is not to dish out more free money to ex-spouses, but to make everybody equally responsible and accountable. Maintenance should come with responsibility to use it to plan for independence. Nobody should be allowed to rely on maintenance for the rest of their life.

  2. Luke says:

    “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.”
    ==============================================

    I predict that such acceptance will never happen, the marriage rate is still falling and the unfairness of divorce settlements will make sure there is no significant bounce in marriage. If the rate of higher earning women continues then gradually the feminist media will turn against ridiculous payouts for the poorer spouse – there is no way that a high percentage of women are going to end up supporting men – they won’t ever let that happen.

    • Rachel says:

      Luke, I don’t think its the media that are the problem. In fact, I think the media are really coming round to the unfairness of it all. The real problem is the law and the courts. The whole legal system is positively motivated to keep the current system as it is. Its current design, uncertainty and level of control, maximises incomes for the legal profession. We need the media to listen and slowly I think they are.

      The Courts themselves need a radical equality overhaul. The family courts are overwhelmingly paternalistic towards women and treat men significantly more harshly. One might imagine that getting a few more women judges in high places might redress the balance, but unfortunately the highest lady judge in the land was responsible for the judgement in McFarlane v McFarlane that essentially absolved the ex-wives of successful men of all financial responsibility for life. Such a pity that such a bright woman who has enjoyed such a stellar career should be so patronising to other women.

      • Luke says:

        “Luke, I don’t think its the media that are the problem. In fact, I think the media are really coming round to the unfairness of it all. The real problem is the law and the courts.”
        ===========================================================
        .
        Well I think you are way too optimistic on that Rachel 🙂 , the media is now heavily influenced by third-wave feminism and politicians know that the votes are there to be had in pandering specifically to women’s ‘issues’. The courts would never be able to be so gender biased on spousal support in isolation.
        .
        This is why the fact that domestic violence is a two way street is not properly acknowledged and why there is a virtual media silence on the massive scandal that is paternity fraud – they don’t want to deal with anything like this because points such as these don’t benefit women.
        .
        Note: I think it incumbent upon me to acknowledge that this website to its credit is a rare one that does raise such issues for discussion.

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