12th Nov 2019

Will I have to return to work after I divorce?

Here at Family Law in Partnership we have many clients who have sacrificed a great career in order to stay at home and look after their children. When these clients are then faced with the prospect of a divorce, they worry about whether their new financial arrangements will mean that they need to return to work. If they have been out of the workplace for a significant period of time, it may be that they are simply unable to return to their former career. So what is the attitude of the family courts to such cases? Will these clients be awarded maintenance for life or will they receive a shorter term maintenance order to encourage them to find a job and move towards financial self sufficiency?

The end of maintenance?

Under S25A of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1989 the court has a duty to consider whether a clean break would be appropriate so as to bring any financial responsibility between the parties to an end. What we do not have at present is the imposition of a random cut off point for maintenance of 5 years: the courts can grant longer maintenance terms where a longer term is appropriate.

However, The Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill which is before Parliament would among other things see maintenance only awarded by the court for a maximum of five years after the divorce is finalised, unless (exceptionally) that cut-off would create serious financial hardship.

We are living in a society in which managing two demanding careers is often prohibitively difficult. It may be possible for two parents to return to work and rely on paid child-care but increasingly in order to do this, they must be high earners and high-earners have long-days. Look at a ten hour work day (or for some much more than this). Tack on an hour or more travel (each way) from the high earning work to the affordable home or decent schools (and factor in how hard pressed are schools and thus how involved parents need to be). Consider the dispersal of the wider family from which support might otherwise have come. And for the majority of families, holding down two demanding careers whilst maintaining some semblance of quality family time is almost impossible.

Many, many families manage the situation in the only way that they can: one earner stops to run the home and the children, while the other focuses on their work and moves on in their career.

Roll forward ten or fifteen years. With the marriage having broken down and the couple going their separate ways, there is often no way into meaningful work for the home-maker. The courts may insist that such work exists but they fail to recognise the real challenge of landing meaningful work on the back of skills and experience that may be a decade and a half out of date. Take a look at Gingerbread’s “Held Back: single parents and in work progression in London”.

Just because there are many working women who have tended to their earning capacity and who see no need for support for their non-working sisters, does not make a maintenance cap a fair solution across the spectrum. It is a controversial subject for reform and one that potentially risks the fairer society that we are all seeking for families.

Family Law in Partnership has extensive experience in helping to manage cases such as these. We have a specialist team of family lawyers and mediators dedicated to help you. If you would like to speak to a family law specialist about maintenance on divorce or separation, please contact us on: T: 020 7420 5000 or by email at E: hello@flip.co.uk