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Relationships and financial risk – what about the men?

The Chartered Insurance Institute recently released a survey entitled Risk, exposure and resilience to risk in Britain today. It pulled together a number of sources highlighting the perilous financial state of divorcing/ separating women and readers of the survey will find not only that within its pages but an examination of their vulnerability to assault as well. It’s all there to read in one composite and comprehensive document.

The Guardian’s Tracy McVeigh then weighed in with an article in support, featuring a photo from Grace and Frankie, the popular US Netflix comedy drama that returns for a new season this week. I know this because my wife is a massive fan of the show. The photo shows the characters of Grace and Frankie – two divorced upper-middle class women – drinking wine.

McVeigh’s article appropriately featured Emma – herself a middle class divorcee -chasing her ex-banker husband up hill and down dale for unpaid maintenance. Although he had been made redundant and the maintenance and related child disputes had already cost her some £85k in legal fees, she was hoping to “change the law” by obtaining arrears from his redundancy pay. I have news for Emma: other women have succeeded in doing exactly that and I don’t see why it shouldn’t happen again in her case.

Except it was hard to feel that much sympathy for her. The relationship between her and her ex was clearly a toxic one. She conceded that she is luckier than most in that, post-divorce, she owns a home for herself and has her three children but still complained of the vast disparity in pension provision. Well…there would be one wouldn’t there? We don’t know how much capital she received on the divorce but if she owns her own home it could well have been more than half. She certainly had a spare £85k to invest in what might be regarded by some as utterly futile legal fees. And what the article did not tell us, crucially, is whether she is working too and earning an income herself. And if not, why not? So with many facts missing, we don’t know whether to sympathise with Emma, or her ex. I am inclined to think ‘neither’.

Reasonable needs

You might think my response to the article is out of kilter with the views of the practising divorce lawyers quoted in the same piece. I’ve no idea whether they have ever acted for women on the breadline and if they have, I’d guess they haven’t done so for decades. Nevertheless they all uniformly sympathised with women who find themselves hard done by as a result of divorce or cohabitation, highlighting the disparity in their financial positions compared to wealthier ex-partners who can rebuild their lives thanks to higher earnings. With a spokesperson from Gingerbread as the icing on the cake, saying marriage is overrated anyhow, the article tried to make it clear as possible that it is the women embarking on new relationships that take all the financial risks. But are they doing so to any greater degree than men? Or does the article reflect a somewhat patriarchal attitude to divorcing women that may be long overdue for change?

On divorce in England and Wales, the reasonable needs of the parties are met out of the available assets. In the poorest cases of course, there are few assets available for either party. There might be a small amount of savings but chances are precious little else with debts, and if the parties do own a house there’ll be a stonking mortgage to cover as well. In cases like that, neither party will walk away with much at all, and both of them, like it or lump it, will be going to work, simply to manage. There won’t be glasses of wine with friends in the afternoons. In the show, Grace and Frankie have each other and a Malibu beachfront house to cope with marital breakdown but the reality is most women have few options. They have to make do as best they can – doing it all themselves.  As will their children. As will their ex husbands, who may not have much to show for themselves at the end of their working lives.

To work or not to work?

But The Guardian did not really address such average, less well-off women. Instead it was all about those middle class women who probably “gave up work” (if they ever had much of a job at all) to raise a family. And doing so was most likely their own choice. It may have seemed a joint decision, but ultimately the decision to get off the daily treadmill of work will have been their own. They can’t expect to have the same income capacity or benefits as a returner after having been out of work for years. But they can work at their marriages if financial security is what they crave. And contribute to the pot. And take responsibility for their own future, rather than trying to shut the proverbial stable door after the horse has bolted.

As I see it, such women cannot have it all. A non-working wife does not have the same responsibilities, liabilities and obligations as one who does. Ergo she cannot expect the same benefits when time has passed her by. Conversely, a husband hit with an ongoing maintenance liability also has a millstone around his neck for as long as the court insists he pays it. Building a new life with a new family – a future – will be financially tough for him as a result, unless he is so wealthy that his first wife would have achieved her clean break anyhow. He not only has to maintain his new family but the previous family too. So let’s not put any decorative roses around his door. A second wife or partner will soon find out that, most likely she is not only maintaining her own family (if the couple can afford children at all) but also contributing to his first family through the loss of his earnings. Meanwhile, the first wife may not be doing much at all because the family court accepted the impairment of her earning capacity that resulted from having spent so many years off work raising a family. That is the most likely scenario, and one that Tracy McVeigh’s article frankly ignored.

So yes. Women certainly do take financial risks when they begin a new relationship, but it will not be a one sided story if the marriage eventually breaks down. It takes two to tango and two to take financial risks that both may come to bitterly regret.

Tracy McVeigh’s article in The Guardian is here.

Read the Chartered Insurance Institute survey here.

Benjamin was a solicitor at the firm's London office, specialising in all work relating to family law. He advised people on the practical, legal and financial consequences resulting from the breakdown of relationships.

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  1. spinner says:

    I agree with everything you’ve written but to be honest men know this now and any man who goes through the English family courts and then gets married again and has a second family is either completely insane or incredibly stupid and they kind of deserve whatever they get.

  2. JamesB says:

    I am not insane or stupid.

  3. JamesB says:

    With re to the article. I agree with the conclusion and spinners point and seemingly the authors and Gingerbread and all on the page, that the courts are best avoided.

    I am of the school of thought though that living together in a marriage is better than living by yourself. Although I must admit I struggle to read as much as I would like, I eenjoy the being part of 100% of society rather than bitching about the opposite sex which the author correctly points out can be a bore, other benefits also.

    With re to risk, crossing the road is risky, it is better to not live in fear and manage risk appropriately.

    • JamesB says:

      I do fear and think though that I am losing that argument and am in a declining minority as they build more and more blocks of flats and the bad outcomes usual from court (bloke gets stiched up or called names or both) frankly does not help. With regards to Gingerbread and woman’s aid and the law society/sfla/resolution, they need to stop pushing the feminist agenda, but something the likes of me can get behind as well, such as prenups, as I want a better society with married people and my children to be happy also.

      • JamesB says:

        I should add the marriage foundation and political parties and other such institutions to that list.

        The next question is, how to hear mens voices also? Like who represents the Islamic community? Is it FNF? Marriage Foundation?

        We need our voice to be heard, in feminist dominated media. Cant think of a senior man who speaks for men’s issues.

        Perhaps FNF or Frank Field.

        (*Edited by the moderators)

      • JamesB says:

        Scrapping the CSA/CMEC/CMS/CMOptions would also help reverse the decline in marriage.

  4. JamesB says:

    I want to be happy and not moaning about the opposite sex also, it is becoming a bit of a tired story in the media and perhaps explains why I have not heard of the show you mentioned, that and because the aspirational side is so far away from most blokes. Sipping wine at Malibu villa? WTF? No wonder so many women feel hard done by and want out when watching tv with ‘norms’ like that. Perhaps the government rather than ratings should dictate what we watch. Some ideas. Need to go now. All the best regards to all on here.

  5. JamesB says:

    Perhaps Boris Johnson.

    I do think it seems to be political suicide to speak for men’s issues and that is wrong and that we (men) do not seem to have a voice in the shaping of family law. Certainly not in the last 80 years, hopefully we will in the next 80 years. Although I don’t want the pendulum to swing too much in that direction either as I don’t want to stitch up women the way men are stitched up either.

    As a (decent) solicitor will advise you (and most judges) they really don’t want to get involved and want a separating couple to do a deal between them as much as possible, they need more help with that rather than laws which give everything to the side that grabs the child and runs.

  6. JamesB says:

    Or the side that claims DV / DA / or as per the article, that they have no earning capacity, etc.

  7. JamesB says:

    I suppose don’t come to a family law website , or perhaps even tv , expecting to hear good things about the relations between the sexes or relationships succeeding.

  8. JamesB says:

    Perhaps good news doesn’t generate ratings. I do still think that good news is seldom from family law courts though and could and should be improved on as the author correctly points out, both adults and children suffer with bad unsuitable outcomes. Avoid if you can. I aim to avoid by having marriage which is agreed and pre nup and where my wife is staunch catholic and who will never divorce.

    • JamesB says:

      There is more to it and I may not go into all the details as they are personal. They link to me agreeing pre and post nups are a good thing as is being tied to each other and respecting each other and knowing and agreeing what will happen if we don’t work things out. Specifically neither of us will divorce and if we do we both know what the settlement will be and would want to see the other person as best looked after as we can and ourselves also. Rather nicer than the distasteful arguing in western divorce courts. Woman should be grateful for what man voluntarily gives her plus her own family and earning ability? Maybe. Perhaps a better solution than co-habitation or forced marriage.

      • JamesB says:

        That or the state. More stable relationships and relationship classes and investment need to be encouraged rather than divorce and separation where the only people who benefit are the lawyers. The ones who set the law also aren’t usually the ones the man who wrote this article says are the usual types of (less affluent) people involved, and my sympathies to the poor people who are stitched up daily in family court and the place is best avoided whenever possible given the current law. Laissez faire attitude to this law (not free market employment rights).

  9. JamesB says:

    It is not a coincidence that my second marriage is to a woman from the only country in the world where divorce is illegal, that is one of the ways I have sought to manage the risk of being stitchedup as did happen following my first marriage with the benefits of being married.

  10. JamesB says:

    Plus don’t jump to conclusions. I met her as she lived next door, more like the nescafé ad than mail order bride. I don’t need to go into more personal stuff here also. Like Trump, need to do this social media commentary stuff less.

  11. JamesB says:

    She’s a British citizen now anyway. Like Trumps wife I suppose. Perhaps the question is have western women become less marriageable, I rather think they have (with the exceptions of my daughters of course), mainly not them but the law behind them they are entitled too, like the Spanish women rewarded financially for claiming DV for example etc.

  12. Benjamin Stowe says:

    Dear James – many thanks for your comments. There are a number of well respected solicitors, barristers and senior judges who are looking to change the narrative and get the male perspective out there. See most recently the response to Lord Wilsons comments on financial maintenance

    More work to be done and I will write a more cheery piece next time round!!

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