For one thing, there is the simple and well-known fact that around 70 per cent of all divorces are initiated by women. Exactly why that might be the case is a whole other topic, but it does at least tell us that divorce is an option many women feel confident about taking. And then there is the rise of the female breadwinner. The number of women earning more than their husbands or partners has climbed dramatically in recent decades, reaching around a third of all families: an increase of no less an 80 per cent in less than 20 years!
So, what happens if and when such marriages end? How should husbands expect to fare in the family courts if they have taken a taken a step back from their careers and focused on the children? The answer is a complicated one.
Are husbands treated the same as wives?
In theory, husbands should receive exactly the same treatment as wives. English divorce law is meticulously gender-neutral in its wording. Either party can receive maintenance awards and lump sum payments in divorce settlements and the only deciding factor is (or should be) their financial needs.
But in reality, old attitudes still linger, especially amongst older judges, and it can sometimes be difficult to persuade the family courts to order maintenance and similar financial provisions for divorcing husbands, even if they are, on paper, in need. There is still an unconscious tendency in many quarters to see wives as vulnerable figures in need of protection, and a high salary may not be enough to overwrite such age-old assumptions. There is long history of generous awards to divorcing wives but far fewer precedents for settlements in favour of husbands.
Furthermore, English law divorce is not bound by formulae – every case is handled on its own merits and judges have a wide of discretion at their disposal when they make rulings.
This all makes family court decisions more difficult to predict when the husband is the financially dependent partner. It can therefore be sensible for them to make a special effort to reach an out-of-court settlement with their estranged spouse and thereby avoid the uncertainties of a courtroom. A trained mediator or family solicitor will be able to assist in such negotiations when the situation is strained and communication is difficult.