Spousal Maintenance and an Income Role Reversal 

Published on 06 March, 2017 | James Brown

James Brown

The idea of paying a former spouse maintenance following a divorce is certainly not a new concept.

Many men, in particular, expect and even accept that they will be asked to support their ex-wife after breaking up, especially if those husbands are in a financially stronger position than the women concerned.

They also understand that contribution is likely to be on an ongoing basis if it’s not possible to make a single lump sum payment.

Of course, men also object to such maintenance being viewed as an indefinite ‘meal ticket’, something which the courts are also sensitive to.

In one notable case, almost exactly two years ago, racehorse vet Ian Wright succeeded in having maintenance payments to his ex-wife, Tracey, reduced. In rejecting Mrs Wright’s appeal against that decision, Lord Justice Pitchford remarked that she should “get on with” finding a job rather than being able to count on the prospect of being “supported for life” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11429864/Divorced-wife-told-to-get-a-job-and-stop-living-off-her-ex.html).

However, there has been another a shift in how the maintenance operates as a result not of court rulings but the success with which many women have pursued careers of their choice.

As I’ve been telling the Sunday Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/04/men-bullied-generous-divorce-settlements-breadwinning-wives/), the advent of the ‘breadwinning wife’ – a phenomenon in which women and not men are their household’s principal wage earner – has led to an increase in the number of husbands receiving maintenance from their wives.

Such payments now feature in about five per cent of all the divorces which we at Hall Brown Family Law handle during a year.

Whilst that might not seem like a lot – and represents just over 5,000 marital collapses in England and Wales based on the most recent divorce statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last December (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2014) – it actually amounts to a substantial change from the position only a decade ago when there were hardly any settlements of this sort.

As has been the case in terms of adoption of such instruments as pre-nuptial agreements, the lead has been taken from celebrities. The pop singer Madonna reportedly paid her film director ex-husband Guy Ritchie £10 million after their marriage ended in 2008 (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1078782/It-money-Guy-Ritchie-just-10million-Madonna-divorce-settlement.html).

The television presenter and journalist Anne Robinson, meanwhile, agreed to hand her former husband and manager twice as much when their 27-year marriage came to a close (http://www.standard.co.uk/showbiz/the-dearest-wink-anne-robinson-forced-to-make-record-20m-divorce-payout-to-her-husband-6806367.html).

A similar pattern among women with perhaps less profile or wealth might be even more pronounced than we have observed were it not for attempts by some to bully their husbands into not accepting settlements which they are entitled to claim.

A number have suggested that ‘real men’ wouldn’t make such demands when the law is gender-blind and considers matters not on the basis of gender but on the grounds of fact, fairness and need.

It is another example of how the formation and dissolution of relationships has changed markedly over the course of the last 40 years or so, since the introduction of the last major reform of divorce law (the Matrimonial Causes Act) and provides fresh ammunition to those – including Supreme Court judges – who believe that an update in statute is well overdue.

Share this post: