Divorce needs to split with gendered language, says Kate Van Rol
With English and Welsh courts famed for their generous pay-outs, it’s no surprise that London is regarded as the ‘divorce capital of the world’. An equal split between partners is widely viewed as the default from which the arguments on financial contribution are made. Why, then, is there a perception that the less financially well-off spouse (often the wife, but not always) often fares better in divorces? Is the division of assets between spouses actually a process which is discriminatory against the so-called ‘breadwinner’?
Recent cases have stoked this belief. In 2019 the husband of a Real Housewives of Cheshire star claimed that being the breadwinner meant he was discriminated against when he was ordered to pay £3 million to his ex-wife. Property millionaire Paul Simon argued that the pay-out was £1 million greater than the couple’s liquid assets, and that the ruling left him with nothing. Lauren Simon was victorious, successfully arguing that their joint worth was over £9 million and that she was entitled to a £3 million lump sum.
When separating assets, judges take into account that providing for the family domestically carries significant weight, especially when a career may have been sacrificed. However, the individual who has contributed the most financially may feel cheated if assets are equally split.
The so-called ‘meal ticket for life’ is often criticised for its alleged discrimination against the ‘breadwinner’. Baroness Deech has argued that such rulings can be ‘over-chivalrous’. Her Bill, which was intended to stop indefinite maintenance payments was scuppered in Parliament. However, compare the laws of England and Wales to Scotland, Greece, Norway and other countries where the maintenance period usually lasts three years, and it’s clear why calls for reforms are growing louder.
In the 21st century, ‘breadwinner’ and ‘homemaker’ are no longer gender-loaded terms and many will be disappointed that Baroness Deech’s Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill has stopped its progress through Parliament. However, we may soon see a different change in the law to replace it. The system we have now has not caught up with modern life.