After Divorce: The Primary Caregiver and Money

Sharing child care with a controlling ex partner can be particularly damaging.

Family law currently fails to recognize that women have psychological needs, and contact orders that fail
to take these into account are bound to cause distress and/ or fail. The psychological well being of the
child cannot be separated from that of the primary care giver, so that a recognition of primary care is best
placed to meet children’s needs.

Mothers are more likely to combine their children’s best interests with choice of employment(34). Research
shows that mothers also continue as the primary care giver even when both parents work full time(35).
Typically, this has a negative impact on career progression and earning capacity(36).

Although this usually remains submerged as an issue when the parental relationship is intact, it surfaces
as a significant gender inequality at separation.

Financial settlements rarely cover the true value of lost income and pension.

The primary care taker faces the following financial challenges at and after separation:
• reduced earning capacity – in comparison to:
o the non primary care giver
o the primary care giver’s actual earning capacity without child care responsibilities
• lower status jobs, with less flexibility and fewer, if any, perks
• reliance on state benefits and financial support
• restricted or no access to financial services
• significantly reduced pension

Women may also have experienced, from their ex partner, squandered joint income and savings, and a
lack of honesty in disclaiming finances.

Women who lose their role as main carer (if the child goes to live with the father more than half the time)
also lose eligibility for state benefits, even if they retain substantial child care responsibilities. Domestic
violence is a common cause of homelessness for women, and the family court system contributes to this
risk(37).Children spending a substantial amount of time with mothers on low incomes, who do not qualify
for state benefits, are likely to experience the worst poverty of any child.

Current UK family law, and the concept of shared care in particular, reinforces and increases gender
differences in economic well being after parental separation.

It is unrealistic to expect a woman to suddenly slot back into the workforce, with no transition period or
training provision, and be able to maintain an adequate standard of living for her children and herself.
The loss of benefits and financial support can pose a very real fear. Women may feel a need to weaken
contact with the father, to protect them from an impossible financial situation. This is evidenced in recent
research(38).

At separation primary carers therefore deserve a financial settlement which includes an equal share of all
family assets to which they have contributed, enabling them to acquire long term economic independence
and security. Attention to these needs will reduce dependency on child support.

34 Women and Medicine, Royal College of Physicians, June 2009
35 Child Custody, Law, and Women’s Work, S Boyd, 2003
36 Women and Medicine, Royal College of Physicians, June 2009; Not Having it All: How Motherhood Reduces Women’s Pay and Employment Prospects, Jessica Woodroffe, 2009, Fawcett Society, Oxfam
37 Anecdotally, mothers report that they have lost their homes as the court’s and benefit system prioritise housing the children before, or instead of, protecting the mother from the consequences of abuse. This creates incentives for abusive fathers to claim residency, as a means to increase their share of state benefits and family assets, including (in some cases) the retention of the family home, Maypole Women 2008/10, MATCH Mothers 2008/09
38 Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms, R Kaspiew et al, 2009

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