So who'd marry now?

The appeal court's decision to award Karen Parlour a third of everything earned by her footballing ex is being hailed as a win for deserted wives. But where does it leave men, Dave Hill wonders, and males with marriage in mind speak up
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The Independent Online

The fallout from divorce usually takes a fractious form, but rarely does it cause such wide unrest. Last week's appeal court decision to award Karen Parlour about a third of the income earned by her footballer ex-husband Ray, in addition to an existing maintenance payment and a large lump sum, has triggered reaction across the whole landscape of married life.

Much of the public furore has been along predictable lines. Tabloid wisdom has it that Mrs P's result represents a victory for a gold-digger over a well-flush fellow's right to a "clean break" - while conservative family-thinkers bemoan the latest advance by uppity women prosecuting their "sex war" against not only former husbands but also, they would say, marriage itself.

The converse view, expressed by, among others, the former Mrs Robin Cook, is that the judges have effectively recognised that female doormats may have every right to future remuneration for past services rendered, without which wealthy exes would not now be in any state to keep on coining it. Karen Parlour, for example, helped to ensure that the Arsenal midfielder was not too plastered to tie up his boots. But what implications does the Parlour saga have for less loaded folk - particularly men, who usually bring home most of the bacon? Legally, that remains to be seen. Karen Parlour's case was exceptional in that the argument prevailed that Ray's income will tumble after his playing days are gone, making it proper for Karen to take a slice of his remaining few years of sky-high wages in order to safeguard the long-term interests of their children. Yet the outcome still speaks to anxieties among men, whether hitched or just thinking about it, that they will be reduced to human chequebooks if their vows come undone.

Dealings with the Child Support Agency, especially in its early days, left many divorced and separated fathers complaining of this situation, especially if they lacked the contact with their children they desired. No surprise, then, that Matt O'Connor, founder of Fathers 4 Justice, condemned the Parlour ruling. "What sane man is going to get married when he can still wind up losing his arms and legs years after his divorce?" he wondered.

Part of the answer may be pre-nuptial agreements. Ironically, should more of the marrying kind decide to take this path they would be following many who have consciously rejected marriage in favour of cohabitation and have made joint contracts in case of a split.

But perhaps the biggest lesson is that the law has now determined that a history of unpaid domestic and emotional labour can be transformed into a kind of credit, post-divorce. Call that, as I am inclined to, a blow for equality, or call it more demonisation of the battered modern male, it hammers home the point that in relationships these days you can never work too hard at getting it right - and that may be no bad thing for either sex.

'You're screwed, whichever way you look at it'

David Welsh (not his real name), 39, banker, South London

My thoughts about marriage have really changed after the Parlour case and other recent developments. I used to think I would find it an insult if a woman asked me to sign a pre-nuptial agreement. It might be a sign of lack of love, or of her thinking it was a good earner: half the house for a couple of years' work, so to speak. Then I decided that perhaps it's just an expression of modern marriage and you might as well set out the arrangements at the very beginning.

But then a great friend came to me for advice about a man who had proposed to her. He had told her he didn't have any money to support their lifestyle so she would have to support them both. And he would expect to carry on his so-called bachelor lifestyle (not being faithful, in other words). At least he was being upfront: for him, marriage was a career move. Needless to say they didn't get married.

Will the Parlour case alter marriage? Yes, of course it will. Divorce lawyers will fight for more capital in lieu of future earnings, so either way you're screwed. Particularly if you work in the City, say, and your earnings or property are at a decent level.

I can think of a handful of other people I know who are also unmarried and will never get married. Yes, they'll live with someone for ever, maybe, but they'll never sign on the dotted line because they are scared of losing it all: the money, the property and so on. It's understandable, to a degree. They have learnt from the mistakes of others. I may believe in the idea of marriage, I may believe in the idea of pre-nups but I don't believe in what marriage has ultimately become for some people - a financial leg-up. Until I think that has changed I am on my own, thanks.

'Karen Parlour is not greedy, but she is angry'

Ron Smart, 43, teacher, Gloucesteshire

I am delighted with the Parlour case. This has done far more to help the plight of men than any action by Fathers 4 Justice. The hopeless ancient rite of marriage will now be destroyed by the pre-nuptial agreement - if indeed future male generations ever entertain this religious folly again.

We will all be getting a pre-nup as standard. I am divorced with a daughter who is 11. My solicitor's advice was, "Do not defend. It will cost you £5,000 and your side of the story is irrelevant." In all my experience and research the overwhelming conclusion is that most divorces appear to be knee-jerk anger reactions and the lawyers only exacerbate the anger.

There is a solution: mandatory mediation and cooling-off periods. Marriage as any form of binding commitment is completely ignored nowadays. But my hurt is deep as I was raised a Catholic and to strongly believe in the vows. They count for nothing it would appear, and only goodwill on either side allows them to be upheld.

Karen Parlour is not greedy. She was jilted for a younger women, and is angry. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned", but by pushing things so far it is to hell she may have sent women's rights in matrimony.

It wouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to ask what a man would do in a similar position: probably try to destroy and hurt, and let's not forget that male anger can turn to the most hideous violence. Men, when they feel hard done by, can be angry. When they feel fooled they can begin to rage. But this case, and the divorce culture, is beginning to make more and more men turn round and stare. Fathers 4 Justice could represent the beginning of a backlash as men begin to lose respect for women and for any will to live in any form of cohabitation.

'I'm still going to get married next week'

Matt Thorne, 30, author, North London

I like the institution of marriage - it's a good thing. Which is just as well because I'm getting married next week. No one goes in thinking that this is going to end up with the other person fleecing them: there is trust and faith instead.

Many of my generation have parents who have divorced or separated and have first-hand experience of the frustrations of marriage. So we probably have very different expectations than our parents did. Perhaps they married someone who lived a street away without ever really thinking it through - the social pressures were much greater then. It almost seems as if they chose the next person not the best person because they just didn't have that freedom. It's a lot a more equal now, on all fronts. The old-fashioned way must have been very stifling.

One of the great points to our relationship is that we complement each other well. One of us is freelance and one is in a regular job. As an author I receive larger irregular payments rather than a salary, and we do things with those amounts that we wouldn't normally do. We don't have the unequal financial relationship that the Parlours had, where he was the big earner and she held the home together.

Then again, I suppose my fiancée could claim quite a large influence over my career. She is also my literary agent. We met first and then she became my agent because it seemed the wisest thing to do - she was always the first one to read my books. I did have another agent but she left to have a baby and it just seemed silly to look at somebody else when I would rather have Leslie.

We inhabit each other's worlds but we are also able to keep them separate. We meet people through each other who are beneficial to each of our worlds and that's great - it's sharing on every level.

Interviews by George Creichton