The Times campaign to “modernise” divorce law is an attack on women

The narrative of greedy women bleeding men dry is far from the truth.

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Women are parasites. They are leeches, fastening their suckers onto male hosts and drawing the life-blood of financial maintenance from them for years and even decades.

We know of this ruthless practice of Darwinian proportions because Britain’s newspaper of record, the Times, had told us about it in a campaign it is running, which it claims is to “modernise” England’s divorce laws.

Among its list of demands is this one: it wants to restrict spousal maintenance to a maximum of three years, so ending what it calls “meal tickets for life”.

Clearly audible to the trained ear are the cadences of querulous men's rights activists and their fantasies of feminist-trained divorce courts enabling rapacious women to bleed men dry. Such complaints have been made with increasing volume since the turn of the Millennium. That was when the court judgement in the case of White v White was delivered.

Most laypeople, including those who wax indignant at courts' alleged bias in favour of women, will be unaware of it. In it their lordships did away with the longstanding rule that wives’ maintenance should be based on their “reasonable needs” and ruled that when it comes to the division of assets upon divorce, “a yardstick of equality” should be used.

No longer was blatant discrimination between men and women to be tolerated. Women’s contributions to housework and childrearing would be would be given an equal rating to male breadwinning.

In his ruling, Lord Nicholls said: “As a general guide, equality should be departed from only if, and to the extent that, there is good reason for doing so. The need to consider and articulate reasons for departing from equality would help the parties and the court to focus on the need to ensure the absence of discrimination.”

Those careful words sparked a very British revolution in divorce settlements in which fairness in asset division became if not a reality then at least an aspiration. Until then, contrary to popular perception, where there were substantial family assets, English family courts – far from being places in which women could take men to the cleaners – were more likely to be sent away with a fraction of matrimonial assets.

In the years following the landmark White judgement the media would cover further divorce ruling milestones towards parity as stories of telephone number settlements awarded to wives in big-money divorces. Context – these were often women who had been discarded by their husbands after decades of marriage – was drowned out and a narrative of greedy women taking liberties in a soft jurisdiction was laid down. Britain was the divorce capital of the world, the media gasped. Foreign women would take advantage of English courts!

Missing in all the confected outrage was that a yardstick of equality still meant that in the key cases, men were still walking away from their marriages with well over half the family’s assets for no obvious reason other than their maleness. The yardstick of equality was measured at between 36 and 40 percent with men still getting the lion’s share of the spoils.

Yet now even that slightly more favourable regime is under threat, and what is proposed is horrifying. It amounts to a vindictive war on middle-aged women. Picture what would happen if the Times were to get its way. Men would be able to dump wives, who may have sacrificed their careers to bear and raise children, on the cheap. Women, whose CVs may be bereft of a history of regular employment, will be compelled to start again in their fifties and sixties, forced into an impossible competition with far younger workers.

Women already face a gender pay gap, which the Fawcett Society estimates would take 62 years to close at current rates of progress. Dumping cohorts of possibly unqualified and inexperienced older women into the labour market would roll that clock back decades in general terms, to say nothing of the pointless cruelty it would impose on individuals.

And for what? The only possible inference to be drawn is that older women who have devoted their adult lives to caring responsibilities are regarded as disposable. They are leeches, sucking finances from men and producing nothing of value in return. They must be forcibly detached from males and made to fend for themselves.

It would be a bleak and humiliating prospect for women if such a thing were to come to pass. The Times calls it modernisation. It would be more appropriate to call it misogyny. 

Catherine Lafferty is a freelance journalist.