More Men Paid Maintenance by Ex-Wives Due to Income Role Reversal 

Published on 15 March, 2017 | Back to News/Press

The growing earning power of British women has resulted in a rise in the number of divorced men claiming maintenance from their former wives.

One of the country’s law firms has reported that five per cent of husbands now receive financial support from their higher-earning exes once their marriages end.

James Brown, a partner with Hall Brown Family Law, claimed the development was due to a “huge shift” in the attitude of spouses and courts alike over the course of the last decade.

He added that most of the cases involved middle-aged women who had become so successful in the workplace that their income had gradually outstripped that of their husbands.

Mr Brown suggested that the proportion of such claims might be even higher but for attempts by wives to “bully” husbands into not demanding cash to which they were entitled.

“To say that five per cent of divorces feature men receiving maintenance might not seem a lot but when you consider that this sort of arrangement was virtually unheard of a decade ago, it is a substantial change.

“In previous years, the only cases of this sort which came to light were those involving celebrities and the very rich. Now, however, male maintenance is more commonplace because of women’s steadily increasing earning capacity.

“That said, these matters tend to involve women who are older and have seniority in their respective professions. Men, by comparison, are still more likely to amass significant wealth early in their careers.

“Courts regard men who divorce wives earning more than they do when they are younger as having time left in their working lives to re-establish their incomes.

“Whilst it is on the increase, the idea of men receiving maintenance is still relatively novel and that can generate tensions.

“Even men who object to supporting their ex-wives tend to accept that they may have to, especially if they are their household’s main breadwinner. A lot of wives in the same position, though, consider the very notion of paying maintenance to their ex-husband unfair.

“Furthermore, some have tried to pressure men into not claiming support by arguing that ‘real men’ wouldn’t do such a thing.

“Men also appreciate the perception which their getting maintenance from an ex-wife can create among family, friends and colleagues. That pride is perhaps why some prefer support to be in the form of a ‘clean break’ lump sum instead of ongoing cash support.”

Mr Brown described how such comments surfaced in divorces involving female directors at two of Britain’s best-known companies.

In both cases, the women – who were earning six-figure salaries at the time their lengthy marriages had broken down – were ordered to pay maintenance until their husbands retired as well as hand over a share of their pension pots.

Mr Brown’s comments follow a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in 2015 which concluded that one-third of British wives were their household’s biggest earner.

Last year, Harvard University found that marriages were more likely to be placed under strain if husbands were unable to keep pace with their wives’ income.

Whilst it is difficult to determine the number of all British maintenance agreements which feature men as recipients, a 2010 Census in the United States found that former husbands made up three per cent of the 400,000 individuals for whom such deals were in place.

Mr Brown said that it appeared courts were still struggling to adjust to the pace at which the status of spouses had changed.

He also noted that wealthy women were already taking steps to limit the number of less well-off husbands claiming a chunk of their fortunes.

“Whereas prenuptial agreements used to be predominantly adopted by men to protect the wealth which they had built up, women are now responsible for just over half of prenups that we deal with.

“In a lot of those instances, they are seeking to limit the degree to which cash, property and other assets accrued from their careers and previous marriages are at risk in another divorce.

“The courts are of course, supposed to determine the division of marital purely on the facts presented to them. However, on occasion, it has appeared that they have found it hard to comprehend women’s increasing role as a couple’s principal earner.

“We have had husbands ordered to pay wives what was described as ‘nominal’ maintenance, even though the women earned more than they did.

“In addition, judges have been at pains to stress how divorce law is gender blind when awarding men maintenance from their wives in a way which would probably not have happened if it was the other way around.”

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