London courts are increasingly getting a reputation for being more generous when it comes to divorce payouts.
This is creating something of a North/South divide when it comes to divorce, as more and more wives seek to have their cases settled in the South in the hope of achieving a more favourable settlement.
Family law firms across the country have reported observing this trend, with some even suggesting that there could be a “maintenance map” illustrating likely size of divorce payouts and length of maintenance arrangement terms across different areas of the UK.
London judges, in particular, are generally perceived as being more likely to favour settlements that will see spouses supported financially in the longer term, as opposed to shorter fixed-term maintenance orders.
Courts not just in London but in the wider South East region if not the South as a whole also have a reputation of favouring the wife when it comes to divorce.
By contrast, Northern courts are perceived as less “pro-wife” and more in favour of the husband when it comes to settlements. Even within a region, however, there is a lot of variation from court to court and from town to town.
Some courts favour an equal split in assets with no ongoing maintenance arrangement in order to give both spouses a clean break. Others favour long-term, regular maintenance payments from the more financially independent spouse to their former partner.
Traditionally, wives (who have most commonly been the financially dependent half of a marriage in the past) could expect such support payments to last until they remarried, but maintenance arrangements are now increasingly becoming fixed-term affairs. Once again, there is a lot of variation between different courts, towns and regions as to how long these tend to last.
The divorce system is designed to reach settlements on a case-by-case basis, supposedly delivering an appropriate outcome for each case based on the needs of each individual involved. Nonetheless, research suggests that the idea that wives can receive better payouts from London courts than they could elsewhere in the country is more than just perception.
Compared to the North, it seems those having their cases heard in London are more likely to successfully secure marital assets as well as ongoing financial support payments from their former partners.
According to Nigel Shepherd, formerly chairman of family law organisation Resolution, divorce rulings can be something of a “lottery.”
“The upside of our discretionary system,” Shepherd said, “is that it is designed to be flexible so judges can tailor the outcome to the needs of the parties. The downside of that is the lack of consistency or certainty as to outcome. It varies tremendously.”
Some people are essentially shopping around to find the most favourable place to have their divorce cases heard. However, this may prove counter-intuitive, as the process of looking around and having the case heard elsewhere can increase costs and cause delays.