Will the "Shecession" lead to a rise in maintenance claims on divorce? - Boodle Hatfield

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11 Feb 2021

Will the “Shecession” lead to a rise in maintenance claims on divorce?

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Alexandra Hirst View profile
3 min read

The world has been dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic for over a year and while people are acutely aware of the limitations it poses on their lives on a daily basis, we are now beginning to see the wider impact of the crisis.

A global recession not seen since the Great Depression has taken hold and research has revealed that it is disproportionately impacting women across all levels of the workforce. Women are not only more likely to lose their jobs as a  result of the pandemic but are also more likely to reduce their hours or voluntarily leave the workforce. 

Surveys of parents revealed that mothers were much more likely to consider moving from full time to part time work than fathers. Indeed, it appears that married women with children are one of the most hard hit groups. There is concern that as women seem to be bearing the brunt of the caring responsibilities for children (being required to juggle work with home-schooling, for example), they run the risk of being discriminated against in the work place as employers may consider them to be overloaded by the needs of the children. 

One of the troubling aspects of the pandemic is that, despite the relatively recent attention given to remedying the gender pay gap, it is causing people to associate women with childcare, entrenching old clichés and undoing positive steps towards greater equality.

This potential shift towards (or rather backwards) a more traditional and gendered family structure (caregiving wife and breadwinning husband) may impact on financial remedy claims in years to come. In this country, the financially weaker party has a right to make claims for maintenance from their spouse if they are unable to meet their needs from their own income. Claims can be made for a fixed number of years or indefinitely. While practitioners have noted that family judges have been reluctant to make lifetime maintenance awards in recent years, with a focus on claimants (usually women) returning to the workforce, one wonders if this will swing back as a result of mass unemployment and limited opportunities. This will mean a greater burden on the financially stronger party and will lead to more couples being financially entwined following their divorce. While this will still leave many women feeling that they are financially vulnerable, at least this safety net exists in this jurisdiction. Most other family law regimes around the world have much more limited systems (indeed, one only has to look north of the border to Scotland where maintenance awards are much less generous) and it remains to be seen how divorcées will cope.

We’re in the thick of the ‘shecession’. The global economy is now in its worst downturn since the Great Depression. One of the unique aspects of the current recession is the way it’s impacting women: though men are more likely to die of Covid-19, the pandemic’s toll on employment is heavier for women. Unlike other modern recessions, the pandemic recession has led to more job losses among women than among men.

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