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Our blog provides illustrated practical guides for those going through the divorce process, plus news on divorce, money and family breakdown.

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12 April 2012

Women marrying 'down' might lead to fairer Court decisions


Mahie Abey

Women are apparently more likely to marry ‘down’ than ‘up’ I read in The Times over the weekend.

Research from the Institute for Public Policy Research found that 28% of women aged 28 to 33 at the beginning of this decade married someone of a lower social class than them, a rate higher than at any time before. This is a natural consequence of greater equality for women in education and the workplace.

However what will happen when those marriages break down? It has taken literally generations for the Courts to recognise that a stay-at-home mother makes an equal contribution to that of a working husband. In my view there is still considerable prejudice the other way: when it is the man who is the less wealthy, or a stay-at-home father, the Courts are much more reluctant to recognise his contribution as equal.

The best recent example of this is the pre-nuptial agreement case of Radmacher. Mrs R was the one with the money and the one seeking to uphold the pre-nup (which said she would keep the majority of it). She succeeded. I do not think the mainly male judges in the Supreme Court would have ruled that way if the roles had been reversed - certainly not where children are involved. Most judges are still men, though thankfully this is changing. Until women are fairly represented in the Judiciary then judges will not properly reflect society and decisions will have a male focus. In the case of a wealthier woman there is, I would suggest, a natural inclination for judges to feel that the man does not deserve an equal share in the assets, whereas the same does not apply if the roles are reversed.

So I think this really rather pointless statistic on women marrying ‘down’ may have consequences for how finances on divorce are resolved by the Courts. It will potentially have to lead to a new perspective amongst the judiciary, which eliminates gender bias entirely. That will be the day!