Big divorce payouts to non-working wives may be coming to end in Britain. According to The Telegraph, a judge recently ruled against Tracey White, a 51 year old divorcee who had been living on a very generous allowance from her husband since their divorce in 2008. Last year her husband went to court to request a reduction in the allowance he has to pay his former wife after he retires, arguing that she had not attempted to find a job to support herself. A lower court judge ruled in his favor and a higher court has now refused the wife’s request to challenge the lower court’s decision. Here’s what the lower court judge said:
“The world of work has innumerable possibilities these day…vast numbers of women with children just get on with it and Mrs Wright should have done as well,” the judge said.“I do not think the children will suffer if Mrs Wright has to work, and indeed a working mother at this stage of their lives may well provide them with a good role model.“It is possible to find work that fits in with childcare responsibilities. I reject her other reasons relating to responsibilities for animals, or trees, or housekeeping.“Mrs Wright has made no effort whatsoever to seek work or to update her skills…I am satisfied that she has worked on the basis…that she would be supported for life.
Merits of this particular case aside, he has a point. As Noah Berlatsky has argued at The Atlantic, divorce settlements are often biased against men. Even in situations in which the wife is capable of working, the man can be required to support his ex-wife with expensive alimony payments. That may have made sense in earlier decades when sexism prevented women from finding jobs, but that’s not the case today. In a world where women can find work, men shouldn’t be compelled to pay large allowances just because they are men.The FT, and others, are reading the British case as a sign that divorce payments may start to get more equitable nationwide. But even if London is the “divorce capital of the world,” notorious for its generous settlements, we have plenty of problems here in America. Several states have permanent alimony laws that sometimes put men on the hook for large payments for their entire lives, even if the marriage was short and/or the wife as well as the husband is employed. It’s past time that the laws and norms governing divorce payments caught up to the reality of the modern economy.