There is a well-worn social myth that in a divorce from a heterosexual marriage it is the men that get fleeced while their ex-wives make away with the spoils. The reality, however, is very different.
Research from the London School of Economics found that women who worked before, during or after their marriages see, on average, a 20% decline in their incomes following a divorce. A man who leaves a childless marriage, on the other hand, sees his income rise by an average of 25%.
A separate study by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) in the UK found that ‘divorced women are far less resilient to financial risk’. The institute discovered that, on average, a divorced woman has a pension pot that is one third the size of a divorced man’s.
These figures show how much of a financial risk divorce is for many women. While women are less likely to be totally dependent on their husbands these days, divorce is still likely to leave them worse off.
To a large extent, this is because gender roles remain entrenched. Most wives will have sacrificed their own career progression to have children, set up their homes and support their partners. That will have compromised their earning power and ability to save. Even if the couple’s assets are shared equally at divorce, men and women do not, on the whole, have the same ability to rebuild from that point.
Divorce, therefore, should not just be seen as a legal process. The enormous financial implications should ideally be addressed together with a professional.
Three things you should really think about
- The pension
In 2018, the charity Age UK reported that many women don’t realise that their husband’s pension should form part of a divorce settlement. In many breakups, men walk away with their entire pension, which exacerbates a wealth imbalance.
This was even the case when the money being paid into the pension was coming out of a joint bank account.
Women should not neglect the importance of any wealth held in a pension in their husband’s name. They should make sure that it is appropriately divided because this is a critical part of securing their futures.
- Do you really need the house?
Many women place a lot of importance on keeping the family home, particularly if they have young children. There is certainly a psychological benefit to this, but it may not be in their best financial interests.
That is because, for most couples, their primary residence is their biggest financial asset. If one of the partners keeps the house as part of the divorce settlement, that means that a big part of what they receive is tied up in this illiquid asset. The result is that there will be less cash for day-to-day expenses, or to save. Maintaining a property also comes with large costs, adding to the financial pressure.
While moving house is an additional stress that most people would rather avoid at a time like this, it needs to be considered. The longer-term consequences can’t be ignored.
- Think ahead
It may sound perverse to prepare for something that may never happen, but the best way for any woman to prepare for the most serious financial risks of a divorce is to make sure she has protected herself in advance.
This doesn’t mean that everyone should be ready specifically for the breakup of their marriage, but only that being financially organised will make any disruption less painful. A woman who has built up independent investments, kept her debt levels low, and has her own emergency savings account will simply be in a better position to navigate the financial stresses of a divorce.
It’s also important to bear in mind that divorce itself can be expensive. Apart from the legal fees, there will be a transition period before a settlement is reached when the former partners may have to fend for themselves. Having a financial backup plan already in place will make this easier to handle.
To discuss, and prepare for, the financial consequences of going through any major life event, speak to a professional.
Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.