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Divorce for the working woman

divorce broken heart.jpg

‘A friend of mine just got divorced. He and his ex-wife split the house. He got the outside.’

This is the conventional view of divorce: the breadwinning man gets shafted by his stay-at-home wife, who gets to keep the rectory and have fun with her tennis coach. This is a long way from the modern reality.

A third of Britain’s working mothers are the main earners in their family, according to IPPR thinktank research, Who’s breadwinning in Europe. The same report found that more than two thirds (68.3%) of couple households have both parents in work.

This also redefines divorce. A woman may feel that she has worked hard to support the family while a husband has been out of work, and then be shocked to find herself forced to support him if he leaves her for another woman. Nevertheless, this is increasingly a reality for some women. Regardless of gender, one person’s affair has no impact on the financial settlement.

In most cases the court assumes a 50/50 split of assets, no matter who has paid the mortgage, contributed to the household expenses and paid the pension contributions. Equally, non-working or lower-earning spouses can claim for maintenance, whether they are men or women.

That said, child support will be considered in the level of spousal maintenance awarded. So if you are looking after the kids and working full time, it will be taken into account in the settlement.

The parent with prime responsibility for the child may need a bigger house or car, more food, for example. People contemplating divorce need to have a good look at their budget to ensure that these are reflected in the settlement they receive.

What can working women do to protect themselves if they feel that divorce may be looming? Here’s a 10-point plan.

  1. Look at who pays the mortgage – whose name is on the title deeds or rental document? They are obliged to pay, whoever lives there.
  2. If you’re moving out, be careful. It doesn’t reduce your entitlement to the proceeds from a sale, but it may give you less negotiating power.
  3. Get a pot of cash together to pay legal fees and short-term expenses – this should be in a separate bank account in your name only. don't want to be forced to agree something just because you've run of out money for the legal fisticuffs.
  4. If your family are giving you a loan, make sure it has a formal loan agreement attached otherwise it could be counted as part of your assets.
  5. Get forensic about understanding your cash flow and expenses. Look through your bank statements, work out where you spend cash. Budget for holidays, unplanned expenses (car breaking down, roof falling in) – this checklist is useful.
  6. Speak to your bank, credit card providers, etc and let them know your change of circumstances. If you feel that your soon-to-be ex is a bit of a risky type, you might consider freezing your joint accounts, so that they can’t run up debt in your name.
  7. Make an itinerary of your and your partner’s income and assets – that includes houses, pensions, salary, inheritance and so on. Don't forget the pension, especially if you took a career break to raise kids and stopped paying into a pension of your own for a few years.
  8. Think about whether you need a lawyer. If your divorce is simple with no children and few joint assets, you might not need one. Any complexity, any disputes and you’ll need one, and you should instruct one as soon as possible.
  9. Understand your child maintenance entitlement. Here is a useful guide for those with a household income of less than £156,000.
  10. Change your will – divorce does not invalidate your will and you need to ensure that it reflects your current wishes.

[We don’t want to upset any guys reading this and of course these points apply universally. It is however true that stereotypes still rule and there isn’t much support out there for women who are the main breadwinners OR men who are the main carers/homemaker.]