Call us: Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm, Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm
Call local rate 0330 056 3171
Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm | Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm
Call local rate 0330 056 3171
Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm | Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm

Do judges favour wives?

For the second day in a row I find myself writing a critical post here about an article that appeared in a national newspaper. Still, I suppose someone has to make sure that the great British public (or at least that part of it in England and Wales) is properly informed…

On Sunday a piece appeared in The Telegraph under the headline:

“Divorces are skewed by judges’ outdated chivalry, says female peer pushing for cap on payments”

The peer referred to in the headline is, of course, Baroness Deech. The piece discusses her Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill, which I spoke about here, in this post. In particular it discusses the provision in the Bill that the duration of spousal maintenance orders should be no more than five years, save in exceptional circumstances (the piece wrongly says that the Bill calls for a three year cap to be placed on most maintenance payments). The piece also goes on to discuss the recent case in which a husband was required to continue paying maintenance to his ex-wife fifteen years after they divorced, a case upon which Marilyn Stowe commented.

The headline is explained in the first paragraph of the piece:

“Judges are labouring under antiquated notions of chivalry in awarding women maintenance payments which extend years into the future, despite the fact that many divorcees go on to earn good salaries on their own, says a leading female peer.”

The Baroness’s own words are quoted as:

“Our judges are being very old fashioned I’m afraid. They are over-chivalrous and the way they were in the 19th century.”

So, the argument is essentially that judges are biased in favour of wives, although the Baroness does not use that word.

It’s an interesting argument, but one with which I suspect most judges would take issue. Whilst it is no doubt true that the vast majority of spousal maintenance orders are made in favour of wives, I suspect that most of the judges who make those orders would argue that that just reflects how society is. Even in these more enlightened times, it is far more likely that a wife will be dependent upon a husband than the other way around, and the orders are made to deal with the issue of that dependency.

There is also the fact that very many of our judges are women, as an eminent QC pointed out on Twitter. Are female judges ‘over-chivalrous’ too? I can’t really see that.

And the issue is surely blown out of proportion. Spousal maintenance orders are actually relatively rare, and orders that last (potentially, at least) for life are rarer still. Remember that since 1984 the courts have been specifically required to consider in all cases whether a clean break (i.e. a financial settlement without maintenance) is appropriate, and where they decide that there should be a maintenance order they must consider whether it would be appropriate to make the order only for as long as is necessary to enable the receiving party to gain financial independence.

With the greatest respect to the Baroness, she seems to be basing her assumptions on the few cases that are reported, which are inevitably big money cases, in which the husband has the ability to pay (to give the Baroness credit, she seems to accept this when she says that: “It’s an insult to every woman who works for a court to say that if you’ve bagged a rich man you should carry on getting that sort of money to fund a luxury lifestyle.”).

The vast majority of wives are not given a ‘meal ticket for life’. There is certainly no “assumption throughout the legal system that once a woman is married she is somehow disabled and incapable ever of managing on her own for the rest of her life”, as the Baroness claims. Most wives are expected to fend for themselves, although obviously there may be instances where this is not immediately possible, in particular where they are still looking after dependent children (the same of course can apply to husbands looking after dependent children).

The law relating to financial remedies on divorce, as set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act, is of course gender-neutral. It does not favour wives, or husbands for that matter. That judges who apply that law appear to favour wives is just a reflection of how society is arranged, not because of any favouritism or, dare I say it, bias.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

Contact us

As the UK's largest family law firm we understand that every case is personal.


  1. spinner says:

    Unless you can present actual data that proves judges don’t favour wives then you have no argument. I agree with Baroness Deetch and it was certainly true in my experience but even me saying that proves nothing as I don’t have any data. Once the digitisation of court applications which is now started is completed there will be a massive data set for an AI to process that will be able to give a definitive answer to this question and it will also show up regional variations that we all know are there and then we can start to get a grip on our out of control legal system but hopefully Baroness Deatch’s financial provision bill will be passed and that will remove a lot of the possibilities for bias and regional variation.

  2. Andy says:

    Blimey I can’t believe that a Barroness has actually supported for a fair division and reduced maintenance of payments for a certain amount of time…

    Better sit down and have a drink..pity this was not pushed forward in my case…

    Spinner you are right…clarification on all subjects and of course judges are right as the Gold digger ex seem to bleed dry at will the ex father…

  3. TG says:

    Complete misrepresentation by humbug John Bolch when he suggests from his headline that Baroness Deech, truly a Noble Baroness, beyond many, is saying that Judges favour wives. Judges evidently favour the “post-divorce effort-shy”. Perhaps John Bolch considers that to be wives?

    The trouble is that some vanguard firms act only in high net worth cases – and they get paid ludicrous dishonesty-fees for delivering the meal-ticket for life which John Bolch appears to deny the existence of. These are firms which gave the handsome livelihood to barristers, then QCs while they were on their climb to the eminence of a Judiciary which is tarnished like no other division.

    Whether male or female work-shy – Tennis and bridge with “ladies who lunch” – and an excess of holidays – sometimes with a new spouse freed of the alimony/maintenance considerations because the law looks for full and final settlements EVEN where a new funding-source subsequently takes on an effort-shy. It is sad that this filters through to all levels of wealth – a system manipulated by utterly contradictory caselaw lottery (of COURSE solicitors love the uncertainties that engenders, that is their payroll). Thank goodness the Noble Baroness aims to make the hitherto-unpredictable vagaries of Judges and their relationships within the Family Law Club whether at the bimonthly jamboree or “strolling on Hampstead Heath” something a bit more consistent and predictable.

  4. John Smith says:

    Have all the civilised men left the UK? A marriage is an agreement. Certain principles are entered into at the begining of a marriage. Just because the marriage falters emotionally doesnt mean the parties have a right to behave dishonourably.

    If a man chooses a non working wife and mother as his partner, then he should look after her even post divorce.

    If a man marries an independent woman who continues her career througout the marriage then of course he doesnt have a duty of care to her as she has always been independent.

    The same would apply for a stay at home husband and father.

    • Stephen says:

      If a contract (agreement) is broken by either party. Then it is a broken contract and neither party should be able to profit off of a broken contract, especially for life. Most divorces are requested by women. Why because they know the court will not force them to uphold their part of the contract and probably will in fact be rewarded by forcing the other party to uphold their part. As stated it was an agreement. But if the agreement is broken (divorce) neither party should be forced to fulfil their part while the other has no obligations to the remaining party in the contract. Slavery or Indentured Servitude is NOT legal in todays age and no longer should be forced on men who have NOT broken the marriage contract.

  5. Andrew Wolstencroft says:

    It seems like every time you read a paper these days there are articles and opinions about gender inequality and discrimination and how, despite the enormous progress made over many decades there’s still a long way to go until full equality is achieved in the workplace and in society in general.

    However, very little opinion is expressed, it seems, on what is surely the most flagrant embodiment of institutionalised inequality and discrimination evident today – the divorce courts.

    The latest example to add to an already substantial and ever accumulating body of evidence can be found in the Evening Standard on 6 February. It’s the case of Maria Mills, who split up from her husband Graham 15 years ago and was awarded a £230,000 lump sum and £1,100 a month maintenance payments. It seems that, during this 15 year period, she’s made some ‘unwise’ investment decisions which have got her into debt and mean she’s unable to meet her basic needs. The decision passed down by the courts is that her former husband has to pick up the tab for this in the form of increased maintenance payments for an indefinite period.

    How can it be that this kind of ruling has come to be just accepted, almost as the norm? How can it be justified? What kind of attitudes underpin the idea that this is in any way fair or reasonable?

    From a legislative perspective, what other examples are there of legal agreements where a financial duty of care from one party to the other, extends years after the contractual termination of the agreement? Can you imagine leaving a job you’d worked in for many years, by mutual consent, receiving a large financial settlement and then, 15 years later, after you’d made some ‘unwise’ financial decisions, expecting the company to bail you out!

    Why should anyone, after a personal relationship is ended, be entitled to be supported indefinitely by the other person?

    Decisions like this are utterly outrageous and send out an appalling message, a message that is impossible to square with the drive for equality. It seems that, as a woman, you are entitled to expect equal employment opportunities, rights and remuneration but you are also entitled to expect to be supported by the man you marry, indefinitely in many cases, even if the relationship breaks down. As a man it is your obligation to provide this support. It’s as if the huge societal shifts of the last 50 years or so haven’t happened and the courts are still operating to the standards and norms of the 1950s – this must be the perspective from which judgements like this are made.

    The evidence overwhelmingly shows that it is men on the receiving end of decisions like this; the law is emphatically not gender neutral , however the legislative guidelines may be written. In fact I’d challenge anyone to provide a single example of a woman being ordered to make indefinite maintenance payments to a man.

    This legalised extortion has to stop.

  6. Rachel says:

    I think it is very widely known that the Courts treat men and women differently. A man is significantly more likely to go to prison for the same offence as a woman. A woman will be treated better in the family Courts. It’s something we need to do something about.

    The McFarlane case very clearly stated that the onus in joint lives Maintenance was on the payer to prove he couldn’t pay, not the recipient to change her situation through hard work. There are extremely unequal obligations in the arrangement. There is neither carrot nor stick for the recipient. The author has no idea at all about the reality of the family Courts if he thinks there is even an ounce of fairness involved in trying to wrap up a JL Maintenance Order. There simply is no argument that ‘it’s high time you were standing on your own 2 feet’. The only way back is to demonstrate that the payers circumstance has changed, not that the recipients circumstance ought to have changed. 15 years after a divorce, variation proceedings take in to account all the financial ‘needs’ accumulated after the marriage has ended.

    Remember Karen Radmacher? Funny how it took a woman’s fortune to make the Courts think seriously about prenups?

    Having supported my husband through 15 years of joint lives maintenance and having spoken to literally hundreds of people in the same circumstances, I can tell you that the family Courts are overwhelmingly biased in favour of women. It’s something I would never have imagined until I saw it with my own eyes

  7. Andrew says:

    Yes, it’s staggering that people actually try to deny this bias. I wrote a piece on the Radmacher case at the time saying that the only new precedent this would set was to allow judges to decide a prenup should be given decisive weight in the rare instances like this where it was the woman who had the fortune! When the tables are turned and it’s a man making a claim on a woman’s fortune it’s seen for exactly what it is it seems.

    • Unknown83 says:

      I think the Radmacher case had a number of features that were entirely justified and had nothing to do with gender. The filching man in this case (more often the filcher is a woman) wasn’t even going to be the primary carer for the children for goodness sake. Nor did he even intend to maximise his earning capacity.

      Quite rightly he was told to do one and women would be told exactly the same thing nowadays. The reason you don’t see outcomes like that for women very often is the key distinction that they are normally the primary carer AND the weaker financial party. In Radmacher, he was the weaker financial party but he was not the primary carer and that makes all the difference. Quite rightly the court thought “get off your lazy fat backside and get a job.”

      In a lot of cases now where men are achieving shared care on a 50/50 basis, there arises expectations that both spouses can work the same number of hours. For example, in my ongoing (fortunately amicable) negotiations we’ve already agreed I can step down my work commitments so that I can do more childcare and she can become more financially independent.

  8. N says:

    I’d just like to say I was married 26 yrs,stay at home mother of 4 children ,I worked hard alone and did everything for the family,my ex husband worked away most of our marriage,we divorced in 2017, we got half of everything each,I was granted spousal maintence joint lives basis,children grown up but 3 youngest lived with myself,got myself partime unskilled job,just to top up extra costs of running family home,after 4 years,having spent the past year being dragged through it all again,yesterday I was left with a small payment for next 12 months then nothing,I’m possibly going to loose my home because I’m unskilled and suffering depression,proven by doctors notes letters etc,was treat like trash yesterday in family court,judge himself was speaking of his own experience of diverse,my ex who has good paid job and plenty money for court costs was allowed to win because the judge definataly male shovanist ,I gate the meal ticket term,think it disgusting,I didn’t send my ex the bill for being surrogate mother to our 4 children or gardener cleaner n cook,wow if he had to pay me I’d be rich,from my experience of my divorce,my advice is save your money guys n girls go to mediation ,above all keep it respectful

  9. Unknown83 says:

    I think the real problem with spousal maintenance in the UK is not that the stronger financial party is ordered into paying it by a court (that, as the article says, is quite rare, especially on a joint lives basis).

    The real problem is the sheer volume of solicitors’ websites that explain spousal maintenance without any caveats about how rare it is and often suggesting joint lives is possible just because a thirty something parent stayed at home until their youngest went to school. Almost anyone on less than £100k willing to fight a claim against them to a final hearing would probably find the worst case outcome would be nominal maintenance until their youngest was 18 or in extreme circumstances with a particularly onerous judge a term order of up to 3 years.

    However, all these websites broadcasting spousal maintenance as an option just because one earns more than the other means weaker financial parties are not having their expectations managed appropriately. This can result in pointless litigation to fight for things that they are not going to get when perhaps they would better spend their time asking for slightly more of the assets or pensions in a clean break.

    My wife initially wasted time and money on this when a better solicitor would have quickly stopped her. The reality for a typical family these days is that if one is only earning £15-20k then they are entitled to a lot of benefits. In my wife’s case £750 a month. If she got spousal maintenance from me up to £750, she would simply lose her benefits £ for £. If I paid more than £750 then she would lose all her passport benefits. So I would have to pay well over £1,000 a month to make it worthwhile on top of around £800 in child maintenance. This would have left me with less than £2k to live on whilst she would have had closer to £3k despite sharing child care 50/50 and despite her insisting on a 70/30 split of assets in her favour. Clearly an unfair outcome but it took a very long time for her to go to a solicitor and get her expectations managed because of the rubbish she was told on solicitor’s websites, Wikivorce and MumsNet.

    • STUART says:

      I am in the process of getting divorced and she has been advised she may get 2/3rds of everything and child + spousal maintenance – spousal being paid as a lump sum to allow for a clean break. I think we will end up in courts because she has been filled with big numbers and ideas of entitlement. Seems to be a good selling point for solicitors but let’s be honest it is the child’s future that will be impacted as the spare cash that might be available to provide for everyone’s needs will be taken by solicitors.

Leave a comment

Help & advice categories


Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for advice on divorce and relationships from our lawyers, divorce coaches and relationship experts.

What type of information are you looking for?

Privacy Policy