is maintenance an 'insult' to women? - Online Divorce Advice II How to divorce amicably
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is maintenance an ‘insult’ to women?

Would you pay £30,000 a year for your wife to run the home and raise a family?  That’s the estimated value of the stay at home mum should you have to replace her.  With the Conservative Party openly committing to making Pre-Nups more binding, will women themselves value their worth as stay at home mums?

“Stop giving ex-wives these undeserved millions, says Baroness Deech”.  So screamed the Times Headline on 14 September 2009 as the Baroness gave her controversial views on whether maintenance was appropriate for women who could still go out to work post marriage.

“Housework has to be done, whether single or cohabiting, and for many women giving up a career on marriage is a myth,” revealed the Barnoness. She believes that either it was a career they would have given up “with a sigh of relief with the prospect of being kept” or it is “a free choice to opt for the home rather than the office. The choice to stay at home and care for the children is only possible if the man’s income permits and is far less likely to be available to his second wife.”

But isn’t she missing a vital point here? Of course you can ‘work’ whilst having children to care for, but the quality of that work and the money earned for having to leave earlier than your colleagues, miss days when the kids (or child minder) are ill, have no peace or space or time at home after work to try to catch up so you can keep up with your colleagues – well the truth is you just aren’t going to get the best paid jobs. Your colleagues have the luxury of a take-away on the way home and watching the telly while you have to shoot home and slip into mummy, wife, cook, housekeeper role and still make sure you have something ironed to wear the next day for work.

The Baroness makes some good points about not splitting everything 50/50 after only a short marriage when no children are involved. But what she doesn’t do is seem to place any financial value on the parent who ‘chooses’ to stay at home. This ‘choice’ is normally made by BOTH parents, and for good reason.

When I got life insurance, I had to calculate what it would cost my children’s father to replace me, so that he would be able to have the luxury of carrying on working – you see, my dear Baroness, from a woman’s point of view, being able to apply for any job you like and work the hours you want to get it done is indeed a luxury that many parents don’t have. I was astounded at the amount of money it would cost my kid’s father to replace me.

Add up the cost of the two nannies (they don’t work 24 hour shifts) and childcare (for when the nannies are on holiday, ill, or the working partner wants a night out with their mates), cleaner, taxis to and from school, housekeeper, cook, caterer (for work colleagues round to dinner) etc and times that by the number of years of the marriage. Then add on the fact that the house parent has not followed a career (creating well paid careers around school runs and washing is tricky, I can tell you) and the fact that when the house is sold post divorce when the youngest reaches 18, they have not had time to build up a pension, save for a mortgage deposit (house may not have much equity in it), or buy their own car, then perhaps most women would not feel at all “degraded” to receive maintenance even though they can now begin to compete in the work marketplace.

According to a survey by the networking site www.alljoinon.com in 2008, the average housewife would earn almost £30,000 a year if she was paid the market rate for the chores she does in the home.  Legal & General calculated the value of the tasks performed by a woman in 2006 to be almost £24,500 a year, or over £2,000 a month.This was higher than the national average wage, which was then £23,400, according to the 2005 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

Financial advisors like Barry Browning of Browning Financial, Fiona Monson of Armida and Mark Robinson of Private Wealth Management, all exhibitors at the Starting Over Shows next March, specialize in helping couples create a realistic basis for a settlement.   Those assessments are always going to be different depending upon the couple and their circumstances, but it is important that both of the couple recognize the value of the one who ‘stays home to look after the kids’.

If we are to change the way we assess ‘maintenance’ then we need to begin to talk about a fairer assessment of financial worth of both partners in a relationship, and the choices they make together.
If you combine the reality of the financial worth of a house parent dedicating themselves to being the main carer for the children, and also create Pre-Nups that are guaranteed to be taken seriously by a judge (even if you’re not a foreign millionairess), perhaps we would begin to create that greater sense of fairness.  If the prevailing attitude is that stay at home parents are not effectively adding to the financial pot, by providing and caring for a family, then it will be inevitable that people will haggle bitterly over what money should go to whom if the relationship ends.  And we are not even mentioning here the psychological benefits to children and our society for children to be brought up by parents rather than childcare providers – the undermining of the value of stay at home parenting is a far reaching and pernicious force that goes beyond arguments over maintenance payments.

Instead of focusing on the divorce process and snatching at the spoils, is it not better to guide couples towards a long healthy relationship as Ex’s – which those of us with kids know to be a worthwhile effort made harder by the current legal system. Something which the Starting Over Show actively encourages?

It’s not the multimillion pound awards that are “degrading to women” as Baroness Deech proclaims – it’s the fact that a shared decision to bring up children is still viewed as an ‘easy option’, and most mothers are financially disadvantaged by the divorce unless they happen to be married to a millionaire.  Yes, the dads lose out too financially – but as more fathers choose the house parent role, it’s in everyone’s interests to put a financial worth on the decision to stay home with the kids, if only to use this as a guide in creating fair settlements where the house parent is not left feeling like some kind of sponger ripping off their hard working partner, instead of being recognized as a full financial contributor to the family, particularly in regard to significantly affecting their future career and salary opportunities.

Acknowledgements:

Times Article: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article6832973.ece

http://www.alljoinon.com/clippings/Alljoinon.Mirror.p25_19.02.pdf

http://www.fool.co.uk/news/comment/2006/c060324d.htm

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1 Comment

  1. Not knowing Baroness Deech’s background, I think you, Suzy, have a much firmer grasp on reality. As you say, the decision for one parent to stay home is a joint decision made with the best interests of the children in mind. If children have had a stay-at-home parent before divorce then IMHO they will do best with a stay-at-home parent after divorce, if that is at all possible. It makes sense for that to be the same parent who’s been at home before the divorce but it doesn’t have to be that way. Most of us don’t have millions to fight over.

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