For International Women’s Day, our Managing Partners Louise Allard and Sabrina Bailey discuss gender bias in modern families, how this translates to family law on separation and the steps that can be taken to level the playing field.
Louise addresses the issues for married mothers:
“In the last 50 years there have been leaps in society’s attitude towards the roles of Wife and Husband. It is generally accepted that women can work and men can help within the home – and divorce law has changed to reflect this. Lifetime orders for spousal maintenance are becoming a thing of the past and, if a clean break is not possible, spouses are expected to achieve financial independence within a few years.
The theory is sound, but in practice there is a clear stereotype when it comes to the roles of Mother and Father, which leaves women at a disadvantage if the relationship breaks down.
Although there are exceptions, women generally take the lead in caring for children, which often means taking a step back from their career, working part-time or giving up work altogether.
Reverting to traditional roles can seem like a good idea for the family, but the reality is that it usually affects the women’s job prospects if she returns to the workforce. It’s unlikely to be an issue if the husband provides financial support in exchange for the wife forfeiting her career, but it can pose a problem when a couple separates. The courts will want the wife to become financially independent and that can mean major changes in lifestyle if her earnings potential has been capped and the husband does not agree to provide the ongoing financial support that was expected.”
Sabrina highlights how the position of unmarried mothers is even more tenuous:
“Marriage is declining in popularity and unmarried parents are the largest rising family type. Unmarried women who give up their careers and ‘take one for the team’ find themselves in an even more vulnerable situation if the relationship ends.
If you are married you will divide the marital pot and hopefully leave the relationship with enough capital to meet your immediate needs. If you are unmarried and assets are not in joint names, the father does not have a legal obligation to share them with you. This is true regardless of how long you are together, so even after a 20-year relationship, if the house is in his name, he can keep it.
If the mother has day-to-day responsibility for a child, she can apply for financial support and housing for the child, but she will need to find a separate income to meet her own needs. This can be difficult if you are the primary carer and must fit work around your children – or you’ve been out of the workforce for a long time.
If you have a 50/50 care arrangement with the father or your children are older, you might not qualify for any form of child maintenance or housing support for the child. If Dad’s career has progressed and Mum is restarting hers after a break, this can create a real imbalance in the child’s life experiences with each parent.”
Sabrina for unmarried couples:
“I would always advise unmarried couples to enter into a Cohabitation Contract, also known as a Living Together Agreement, which sets out their intentions for the ownership and division of assets, as well as their responsibilities for upkeep, bills and debts – and any other arrangements they would like to be in place if the relationship ends.
If you don’t have one, it’s a good idea to get Cohabitation Agreement in place when you are planning children, as it can help you to agree your roles and responsibilities over and above the legal requirement to provide for the children, should you separate.
A Cohabitation Agreement is particularly important if you have a shared expectation that your children will be raised in a lifestyle that can only be afforded by one parent, for example if your child’s private education is funded by the parent with higher earnings and you want to ensure it will continue irrespective of your relationship.“
Louise for married or soon-to-be married couples:
“Couples have the option of entering into a Prenuptial Agreement before they marry or a Postnuptial Agreement afterwards, and they can be helpful tools if your roles and contributions to the relationship are going to change and you want to ensure that you have similar expectations. Although they are not legally binding in the strictest sense, the Court is likely to uphold a Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement setting out separation arrangements as long as it has been entered into voluntarily and is fair.”
“On a personal level, I would suggest that women keep their career going in some form if they can, so they have something to go back to if they want or need to. I left London and took a career break when I had my eldest and it wasn’t easy to return, but I’m now divorced and raising three children alone without any contact from their father so I’m grateful I have my career already, rather than having to start from scratch.”
As attitudes towards relationships and divorce laws evolve, the women who make the biggest sacrifices seem to be paying the greatest price. It is possible to #BreakTheBias by entering into a Nuptial Agreement or Cohabitation Contract with your partner and we encourage you to do so.
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If you would like to speak to a family solicitor about the specifics of your situation, you can call 020 7993 2936 to book a consultation or complete a Contact Request.
Filed Under: Insight