This particular divorce case has hit headlines hard recently after a judge told a divorced wife and mum that she simply needed to ‘go and get a job’.
The couple divorced in 2008 after 11 years of marriage, having had two children together and she was initially awarded half the proceeds from the sale of the former matrimonial house, which allowed her to buy a new £450,000 home, mortgage–free, as well as receiving an annual maintenance of £75,000 (£32,000 of which was to be used for her personal upkeep).
Mr W, let’s call him, protested against this joint lives maintenance order, claiming that he would be unable to fund his ex-wife’s lavish lifestyle after his retirement, which he anticipates will occur in five years’ time.
In a judgement that has got everyone talking, Lord Justice Pitchford agreed with Mr W and told Mrs W to get a job. This ruling has seemingly divided the nation, with some feeling sorry for Mrs W and others stating that it’s about time the law stopped treating women as victims.
Below we set out arguments for and against this landmark decision and consider whether an equitable ruling has been made.
‘Team Mr W’
The definition of ‘adapt’ is ‘to become adjusted to new conditions’.
This is something that Mrs W should have done back in 2008 when her marriage to Mr W came to an end. Despite the fact they had initially agreed that Mrs W would be the home-maker and Mr W would be the money-maker, these terms were only in relation to the couple’s marriage. It should be obvious that once the terms of their relationship changed then the terms of the above arrangement would have to change too.
Mrs Wand so many women in her position try to claim vulnerability by arguing that they have stunted their career progression by staying at home, and by claiming that they would lose out further if they then had to clamber back onto the career ladder after divorce.
However, this point of view does not take into account that both parties suffer from the terms of such an arrangement having to change.
After all, the breadwinner who was previously taken care of by the home-maker has to adapt to juggle the house-work and their job, and for this reason the home-maker should also have to adapt to include work as part of their day-to-day life.
Before giving up work, Mrs W was a legal secretary and a riding instructor. Whilst it understandably may take her some time to get back into the swing of either professions, there is no doubt that she would be able to do so relatively quickly.
It is also worth noting that the Hs’ oldest child is in boarding school, whilst their youngest is in full-time education. Both of Mrs W’s former careers could be done on a part-time basis and there is therefore nothing preventing her from working during school hours.
Should Mrs W prefer to embark on an entirely different career path, then she has the fortunate position of there being enough money available for her to retrain. This would enable her to have the career she wants, as well as allowing her to become financially independent.
Mrs W should certainly have the option of not working; however, she must appreciate that within this new chapter of her life, not working will result in her having a much lower standard of living. Once again, she needs to adapt to the situation at-hand and make career choices based on the fact that she is no longer married to a millionaire.
Whilst financial ties will remain between the Hs’ in relation to their children, Mrs W should have attempted to make herself as independent as possible.
With this in mind, it seems that Lord Justice Pitchford was correct in stating that Mrs W had made no effort to seek work or update her skills and has been working on the basis that she would be supported for life. By stating that it is imperative that she starts work now, Lord Justice Pitchford is simply trying to guide Mrs W into a position that will empower her in the long-term and will allow her to live an independent, self-sufficient lifestyle.
Lord Justice Pitchford’s judgement is not about neglecting women’s needs at all, but rather empowering them to see that there can be life after divorce.
Katie McCann is head of family law and in-house counsel at Kuits Solicitors in Manchester City Centre. She has a special interest in resolving high value relationship breakdown disputes.