“Divorce split men too ashamed to ask for cash after break-ups”
So read a headline to a story in the Scottish Daily Record newspaper over the weekend. The story tells us that men make only one in ten claims for ‘financial contributions’ between couples during or after divorce, according to research. I think by ‘financial contributions’ they are referring specifically to maintenance, rather than other forms of financial remedy.
Unfortunately, we are not told who did the research, which presumably only relates to Scotland (which of course has a different divorce system to England and Wales). However, the source of the story appears to be Consensus Collaboration Scotland (‘CCS’), an organisation of Scottish lawyers, family consultants and financial specialists who “offer separating couples a non-confrontational way of agreeing the legal and practical arrangements for their separation and divorce” (I think ‘collaboration’ here refers simply to a non-confrontational approach to resolving family disputes, rather like that promoted by the group Resolution south of the border, rather than to the collaborative process).
The story informs us that according to CCS, the number of men claiming support from their former other half has not risen despite an increase in stay-at-home dads and women with successful careers in recent times. They attribute the figures to “a sense of shame”, although they say that another reason is that a law change in 1985 effectively put an end to long-term maintenance orders, making maintenance applications less attractive than they were previously.
So, are we seeing the same phenomenon in England and Wales, and for the same reasons?
I’ve not found any statistics for England and Wales setting out the numbers of financial remedy applications made by each spouse. However, about two-thirds of petitioners are wives, and as such I think are more likely to be the party issuing any financial remedy application. Further, wives are still far more likely to be the economically weaker party, so it would be no surprise if the vast majority of financial remedy applications are made by wives. Certainly, this seemed to be the case when I was practising, and most reported financial remedy applications appear to be made by wives. Whether the figure is as high as nine in ten, I’ve no idea.
But we are talking here of maintenance applications, rather than other forms of financial remedy, such as lump sum and property adjustment orders. I suspect that it probably is the case that nine out of ten maintenance applications are made by wives south of the border.
And what are the reasons for this?
I will deal first with the second point raised by CCS. As the newspaper story tells us, courts in England (and Wales) are far more generous when it comes to making long-term maintenance awards, although there have been calls to curb this generosity, particularly by Baroness Deech. At about the same time as the Scottish law change we did have our own change which encouraged the court to make ‘clean break’ orders instead of maintenance, but that was far less radical than what happened in Scotland, and for the moment in this country maintenance applications are pretty well as attractive as ever.
That leaves us with the ‘shame’ point. Are husbands, in the twenty-first century, ashamed to be going cap-in-hand to their (ex-) wives for financial support?
Without survey evidence asking husbands why they don’t apply for maintenance, one is left with just personal views, and anecdotal evidence from practising as a family lawyer. As to the latter, memory fades, but I can’t recall ever having a husband client instruct me to seek a maintenance order. As for my own views, I suspect that there is some truth in what CCS say. Despite all the progress that has been made in ‘equalising’ the economic positions of husbands and wives in recent times, I’m sure there are still many husbands who are too ashamed to ask for maintenance from their breadwinning wives.
To admit to friends and family that you are still financially dependent upon your ex-wife could very well be a step too far for many men. Whilst society fully accepts that wives can be dependent upon former husbands, there are still many who would find the reverse to be strange, or even wrong. After all, what kind of man cannot support himself? And even if he can’t, what does it say about his masculinity if he asks for support from his wife?
But such attitudes are of course quite wrong. If you are a husband going through divorce and you are entitled to a maintenance order (seek advice to find out if you are), then you should not be ashamed to seek one.