Work to rule
England becomes a slightly worse place for idle ex-wives
ENGLAND has long been the jurisdiction of choice for wives who have the luxury of being able to choose where they divorce. English law (Scotland is different) tries to balance lifelong need and fairness. The poorer partner—typically a wife bringing up children—can expect housing and many years of income, especially if she has sacrificed her career for the marriage.
A court ruling on February 23rd has nonetheless continued a recent trend of tilting the balance a little towards husbands. Tracey Wright objected to her ex-husband's bid to cut her 75,000 ($116,000) annual maintenance, awarded after an 11-year marriage failed in 2008. She argued that she was too busy with the two children (one at boarding school, the other, aged ten, at home) even to look for work. She lost, on appeal. Lord Justice Pitchford said Mr Wright's payments should taper off as he neared retirement and that his ex-wife should get a job.
The ruling is a legal landmark chiefly because it sets out a mother's duty at least to have to seek a job as her children grow older. As David Hodson, a specialist lawyer, notes, that principle has long applied to poor women when it comes to claiming welfare benefits. But an ex-wife will still be able to argue that no suitable work is available for her and that she needs her ex-husband's help in order to keep up her own and her children's living standards. Such arguments would cut little ice in most other countries.
The ruling will not dent London's attraction as a global centre for divorce. English divorce law, with its bespoke solutions reached after costly legal wrangling, is also likely to remain a luxury service, out of reach to all but the very rich.