There is a common misconception that a woman is the one to profit when a marriage falls apart.  That they take everything, from the house, to their husband’s present and future earnings, and anything else that is not nailed down, leaving their ex-spouse picking up their hair and beautician bills for eternity.

However, this is a myth that needs to be dispelled.  The fact is divorce makes women (and subsequently their children) poorer.

Much poorer.

A recent study from the University of Essex shows that for women who divorce, the future can be bleak. According to Mike Brewer, Professor of Economics and one of the study’s authors:

“Women continue to see living standards fall by more after separation than men, especially when children are involved, but even for couples with no children. Mothers and children from high-income families see especially large drops in living standards, because the loss of the man’s earnings is in no way compensated for by higher income from alimony, child maintenance, benefits and tax credits, and having fewer mouths to feed.”

Following a separation, around 15% of women and 19% of children will fall into poverty.  However, men’s incomes, especially father’s will rise.  Post-separation, a father’s available income increases by around one third.  Research shows that the incomes of “separating husbands” rise “immediately and continuously” in the years following a marital split.

A mother and father problem

What is clear from these depressing statistics is that this is not a male/female problem; the inequality is based on the fact women are mothers and therefore often the primary carers of children when a marriage ends.

The issue of women’s poverty after divorce has many similarities to the gender pay gap.  Despite claims that the inequality between men and women’s pay is caused by lack of opportunities in the workforce and blatant discrimination (which is undoubtedly true in some cases), the main reason men earn more than women over a lifetime is because women take time out of their careers to raise children.

The same reasoning is true when looking at men and women’s income disparity following a divorce.  Not only do women take time out from their career when they become mothers, they often return to work part-time, and on the ‘Mummy-track, with no prospects of advancement or promotion.  Also, balancing work and family life is challenging enough for two parents, and near-on impossible for one.  For a single mother, who has primary care of her children, trying to get someone to look after the kids when they are sick is an on-going battle.  And unfortunately, one she often loses.  Many bosses run out of sympathy and it becomes easier to drop out of the workforce rather than face the constant stress of trying to juggle the endless, competing demands of work and children.

The price for men following a divorce

This is not to say that following a divorce, men walk away free to enjoy a prosperous future.  Spousal maintenance payments and child support can be crippling, and often cause the demise of second marriages as wife number two can feel resentful if she finds much of her earnings are being indirectly sent to support wife number one.

Finding a solution

As with the gender pay gap, finding a solution to the financial disparity between husbands and wives following the breakdown of a marriage is complex.  This is because reason always falls down in the face of human emotions.  The fact is women are not usually ‘forced’ to cut back on work when they have children, most want to.  Striking a balance between the two competing needs of intellectual fulfilment that comes from work and nurturing those little people we love is a constant struggle for women (and increasingly men) both inside and outside marriage.

The most important thing a couple can do to protect their financial interests in the face of divorce is seek experienced legal advice.  The old jokes about lawyers and divorce (‘What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer? A bad lawyer can let a case drag out for several years. A good lawyer can make it last even longer’), may still be funny but they are far from accurate.

A good family solicitor will do everything in their power to keep you and your family out of court during a divorce.  Because they know studies show that financial and childcare agreements reached between the husband and wife themselves are more likely to stick.  When it comes to spousal and child maintenance payments, ex-partners need to make peace with paying for support at the beginning and work out a realistic plan of payment between with their ex-partner through mediation.  Because if a judge makes a ruling on the amount, that is it and there is no guarantee any provisions for vicissitudes of life such as future redundancy, will be taken into account.

Women must take control of their financial future

Given the chances of falling into poverty following a divorce, women must take control of their financial destiny, for the sake of both them and their children.  If you plan to leave your partner, or they have suddenly left you, make sure you take the following steps immediately:

  • contact a solicitor who specialises in family law
  • ensure you make copies of important documents such as bank accounts, pension policies and property titles
  • talk to your solicitor about an interim spousal maintenance order if you have little or no income to live on while the financial settlement is being negotiated
  • be prepared to negotiate hard for what you want
  • make sure you think about the future, for example try and negotiate child care arrangements so you can continue to work

Becoming a single mother is daunting enough, without facing the risk of financial ruin.  Planning and preparation is key to ensure both you and your children do not fall into poverty and move on to a brighter future.

Sultan Lloyd Solicitors have the experience and expertise required to successfully advise clients on all separation and divorce matters.  To find out how we can help you, please call our Birmingham office on 0121 222 7643 to make an appointment with one of our family law team.