Lisa Worth from Nerve has written an article on the rise in divorce in middle-aged women and the issues they face.
In October 2017 figures from the Office for National Statistics showed an increase in divorce, bucking the trend for the decade which has seen an overall reduction.
But the greatest increase has been in the over forties, and for women divorcing in mid-life the obstacles to moving forward can seem insurmountable.
Tracey Williams, from Denbigh, North Wales, was married with a son when her husband’s repeated infidelity led to divorce.
She worked as an administrator but gave up her job to rear her son. Tracey said: “After the divorce my husband stopped paying the mortgage and the house was repossessed. I had to rent, and my ex quickly moved on with a new family. Payments towards my son have been minimal, occasionally nothing at all. I’ve barely made ends meet since, even though for the last few years I have been in full-time employment. But as I work more than 16 hours a week, there is little help available to me.”
The ONS’s statistics are due in part to greater female independence, but conversely research also shows that women fare far worse after divorce than men, particularly within this age group.
Unless women have access to savings, it’s impossible for them to fight for their rights through the courts.
Legal aid is no longer available for divorce and court fees have doubled in the last few years, making women like Tracey even more vulnerable.
Litigants-in-person trying to keep their costs down, are further slowing the system which compounds the misery.
Wendy Clappison, from Liverpool, had been with her partner for twenty years when she learned of his affair. She said: “He’d taken on thousands in loans to buy this girl a car and fancy holidays. The deceit turned me into someone I didn’t recognise, an aggressive, depressed, anxious person who didn’t want to get out of bed.”
Wendy worked at the same organisation as her ex -partner and knowing that everyone was aware of the situation almost pushed her to breakdown. But when she asked her doctor for counselling to help her cope, she was offered tablets and told that she would have to go on a very long list or pay for talking therapy.
She said: “There was no way I could pay. My young daughter kept me going, and because I was working I just about managed to keep the house. But facing all the bills alone was impossible. The gas was going to be cut off and the cupboard was empty, but when I approached my ex for help he said he was skint and was no longer responsible. In the end my brother had to lend me money.”
Women often put their own earning potential on the back burner to raise children, run homes and support the career of their spouse, and traditionally the man is the one who tends to take control of the finances. This can leave women compromised by joint decisions made in long term relationships.
The Chartered Insurance Institute published the paper ‘Risk Exposure and Resilience to risk in Britain’ in December 2016, and the figures were stark. One in seven women in their early forties are caring for both children and an elderly relative. The average divorced woman has a third of the pension pot of the average divorced man, nine thousand pounds to thirty thousand pounds respectively.
The average man accumulates five times the pension pot of the average woman, that’s if the woman has any private pension provision at all.
Sixty five percent of divorcees in their forties have suffered mental health issues, compared to thirty five percent in men.
So, the obstacles for a woman to re-establish herself in middle age are real, even in an amicable divorce.
Lynda Clayton, from Wirral, discovered her husband of fifteen years had a child with his mistress of two years. She said: “I can’t describe how I felt – it was like a physical pain that convulsed within me, constantly. Worse than a physical pain because you can take tablets for that.”
While the marriage was childless, Lynda had spent much of those years supporting her very ambitious husband, functioning as a ‘Girl Friday’ within his business. Faced with divorce, she was in her late forties, jobless and financially at the mercy of her ex while awaiting solicitors to unravel the mess. She said: “The system is ineffectual for the ordinary woman. Mediation is costly, compulsory, and yet pointless as it doesn’t carry any real weight and the legal system is slow and unfair.”
Lynda is re-building her life, and she’s optimistic for the future but it’s been a battle. She continued: “Women are often financially vulnerable because it’s all been about the husband’s career. Even during divorce, he can control your choices because you need him for basic living costs while you’re trying to rebuild, while his earning potential is untouched. Compensation isn’t made for the wife’s sacrifices unless you’re the super-rich.”
But it’s not all bad news. Caroline Willcocks, from Liverpool, was in her fifties when her second marriage of ten years ended. Her husband had decided to live overseas for work, making it clear that he would be going alone. Caroline said: “I grieved for months. He was the love of my life and I never thought he could do such a thing. I didn’t want to face the world.”
Financially her life wasn’t impacted upon, and indirectly she believes her ex helped her become what she is now. She said: “My husband couldn’t work because of his residency status, so I had to earn for us both. I pursued opportunities that I might not have done otherwise, fulfilling my potential.” And as for Wendy Clappison, she is about to celebrate paying the very last instalment on her mortgage which she says, “feels amazing!”
But Tracey Williams thinks that women need to prepare for the worst, even if they are happily coupled.
She said: “You must keep a foot in the employment market, if only part-time. Have a financial cushion. If divorce is ever likely, plan, plan and plan again before starting proceedings. Hopefully it won’t be needed, but if it is then it will make a deeply damaging time of your life a bit easier.”