Skip to main content

British men see spousal support from ex-wives as “unmanly”

By March 8, 2017December 21st, 2017No Comments

The family law arena in the UK is going through a period of great change, with debate on many fronts, from issues relating to de facto rights and cohabitation law, to domestic violence issues, to whether no-fault divorce should be introduced, as we have here in Australia. The issue of spousal support is also being debated by legal practitioners, who feel it has not kept up with social change and is paternalistic, “over-chivalrous” and old-fashioned.

Compared to many other jurisdictions around the world including in Australia, UK divorcees have traditionally enjoyed a strong level of court-ordered spousal support, though in recent years there has been a trend towards reducing payouts and limiting maintenance to the amount of time it takes a spouse to retrain or become employed. Historically, in the British court system, more husbands have been ordered to support wives indefinitely than elsewhere in the world, where it is more common to see cash settlements and short term arrangements.

Thanks to social changes over the past few decades, women are now the main financial breadwinner in more families in the UK than ever before. According to the Institute of Public Policy Research, one in three mothers is now the highest earner in her family. This is reflected in more generous divorce settlements in favour of husbands and the fact that now up to 5% of divorce cases include a maintenance order where a wife is to make ongoing payments to her ex-husband.

Despite this trend towards equality, practitioners say men are being disadvantaged by sexist attitudes in the courts, as well as by their own pride and fears of looking “unmanly”.  Some wives have taken advantage of this fear, with lawyers noting “some have tried to pressure men into not claiming support by arguing that ‘real men’ wouldn’t do such a thing.”

In the courts, a sexist attitude can see men find it difficult to convince the court to settle in their favour. In some cases, even where wives earnt more than men, judges have ordered the husband to pay ‘nominal’ maintenance, as though in a kind of face-saving measure.  Practitioners argue it’s sexist to assume only women deserve maintenance, and that it should be based on equality regardless of gender. However, it’s not thought that men’s levels of spousal support will ever reach a par with the amounts women have traditionally been awarded in the courts, given the trend towards women’s payments diminishing in length and amount, and the February 2015 court of appeal ruling being used by some judges to argue that women should only receive maintenance for the amount of time it takes for them to retrain or get a new job.

In Australia, spousal support levels are thought to be relatively low, but the entitlement does exist and theoretically at least, is gender neutral. While our courts favour finalising matters between parties (the “clean break” principle), in some cases it is entirely appropriate that arrangements for ongoing payments are put in place—it all depends on the unique circumstances.

Do you need assistance with sorting out spousal maintenance with your ex-partner? Please bear in mind the time limits involved in claiming spousal support. If you were married, you will need to make your application within 12 months of your divorce becoming final. If you were in a de facto relationship, your application for de facto partner maintenance must be made within 2 years of the breakdown of your de facto relationship. If you do not apply within these time limits, you’ll need special permission of a court, which is not always granted.

Please contact Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400 for an initial free consultation to discuss how we can best help you.


Call Now Button