The House of Lords in England recently passed a bill calling for a three year cap to be placed on spousal maintenance payments, heralding the end of a long tradition of awarding women endless support by their ex-spouses. About time!
Why are ex-wives (especially housewives and stay-at-home mothers) so often still awarded such large sums of money, despite their ability to return to work and earn an independent living? It seems that our legal system still regards women as helpless and incapable of coping on their own after divorce, by ordering their ex-husbands to maintain them until they either die or remarry.
In all fairness, it is generally regarded as best for a child to grow up with its mother as primary caregiver and ideal for the first few years, but as a child becomes more independent and goes off to socialise in nursery school and eventually primary school, mothers have enough time on their hands to up-skill in their field of expertise, get back into the job market or start a new venture from home.
Leaving a woman with the perceived security of unlimited maintenance, relieves her of the responsibility for her own well-being and survival while robbing her of the opportunity to get back on her feet.
Instead of patronising women with this old-fashioned system, a much more empowering solution would be to divide the matrimonial assets fairly and develop a definite action plan to support them through the critical child-rearing period(s) up to complete independence within a reasonable time. Rather than simply paying a monthly amount, allocate a financial contribution to training, setting up a new business entity or purchasing raw materials, stock etc. Whatever you do, spend the money on skills and tools toward achieving independence.
Marriage and children does not render a woman incapable of managing her own affairs and even though some husbands take over many of those functions during marriage, she has to remain informed and involved in decision making. In cases where she entrusted her husband with certain matters and find herself at a loss after divorce, a clear rehabilitation plan has to be in place to get her up to speed and able to manage on her own.
Too many housewives and dedicated mothers find themselves alone and without purpose, once their children have grown up. This is aggravated when they are divorced and accustomed to spousal maintenance, which might no longer be secured by the need to care for under-aged dependents.
Read Maintenance to find out exactly what you may claim.
Some men prefer to maintain or offer financial support to their ex-wives while their children are young and need round-the-clock caring, which is commendable, but consider the long-term consequences of keeping the mother of your children in a position where she is helpless, not self-sufficient and facing a future limited to motherhood and void of any challenging personal growth or sense of achievement outside the home. Do you want your daughters to grow up with this perception of womanhood, or do you want them to aspire to fulfilling motherhood as well as the satisfaction of reaching their own goals? Do you want your sons to resign themselves to the fact that they’ll always have to maintain the women in their lives or find an equally strong partner to mother their offspring and provide for their families?
Many women choose to put a career on hold or let go of a life-long dream, in order to raise a family. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to help them get those careers back on track or chase those dreams or even pursue a new ideal, instead of them clinging on to a monthly life-line from their ex-husbands? Creating a successful life after divorce rather than remaining stuck in the devastation of it, would also enable far better mothering and co-parenting, which is ultimately what we all wish for our children.
By all means, provide reasonable financial support to your ex-spouse, but do it with a wise vision of a better future. Look beyond your responsibility toward your ex and see both your futures, possibly with other partners where you don’t have to deal with issues about who’s paying for what and who has the last say, because you are both independent and financially secure.
Written by Sinta Ebersohn (Creator of fairdivorce.co.za – Stellenbosch RSA)