Why it pays to get divorced (if you are a woman, that is)

New research shows why separated women earn more, work longer and are more successful than married women
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The key to success for women is to get divorced. New research has revealed that divorced women, far from scraping a living from the meagre maintenance payments of their former partners, are richer than ever before.

The key to success for women is to get divorced. New research has revealed that divorced women, far from scraping a living from the meagre maintenance payments of their former partners, are richer than ever before.

They work longer, earn more and have higher household incomes than their married or never-married counterparts, a report by leading economists reveals this week. "Our results cast doubt on the widely held view that divorce causes large declines in economic status for women,'' say the economists, who report their findings in The Journal of Human Resources.

Leading divorce lawyers say there are two reasons for the turnaround in fortune. First, courts are giving women a bigger slice of their husband's earnings - and their future earnings. Second, the rise of women in the workplace means divorced women have the freedom to work hard and get ahead. In many cases, women have to start work to make ends meet.

Marilyn Stowe, a partner of solicitors Grahame, Stowe, Bateson in Harrogate, says that the courts will now automatically divide property 50-50 thanks to White and White, a landmark case in the High Court five years ago.

"That was the first time a home-maker was judged to have contributed equally as the person who went out to work and earned the money," she said. "That had a radical effect on the level of financial settlements. There are now cases where women are saying not only should capital be divide equally but income should also be divided 50-50."

Another landmark case next year could benefit women further. Julia McFarlane, a solicitor who gave up work to look after her children, will argue that she is entitled to future earnings post divorce, because she provided the platform for that future success. Ms McFarlane's case is linked to that of Karen Parlour. The wife of the former Arsenal footballer Ray Parlour successfully argued last year that she should have a share of his future income because she had been an asset to his career.

This is all well and good for women married to rich men. But for many couples there isn't enough money to start with. Halving an income to support two households can leave both partners worse off, said Peter Morris, a solicitor of Langleys in York.

The life-changing experience of divorce, and the need to earn an income, can lead to women becoming more financially independent, he added. "When people go through something as significant as divorce it causes them to re-evaluate everything," he said. "I've seen cases where women have gone from a situation where their spouse is responsible for all financial management and we see them come through the other side with employment or self-employment."

The latest official figures show that 153,490 couples were divorced in England and Wales in 2003, the highest number for seven years and the third increase in a row. The highest divorce age-bracket for women was in the 25-29 group, with 28.9 divorces per 1,000 of the population.

In the research, economists looked at women aged 21-40 who have been married at least once and who have had at least one child, over a 40-year period. The research, from the University of California, flies in the face of other studies which suggest that women's income can fall by as much as 30 per cent after divorce.

"Based on these observations, some analysts have concluded that marriage is a central determinant of economic status for women and their children, thereby making the case for stronger divorce laws,'' says the report.

Previous research failed to take into account the fact that women who divorce are more likely to have their children younger, to be less educated, and to have lower income, the researchers say. Women who divorce are therefore more likely to start with lower incomes and economic status than those who remain in marriages - so-called negative selection.

"Once the negative selection into divorce is accounted for, our results show that, on average, divorced women live in households with more income per person than never-divorced women,'' say the researchers.


'I started to see it as an adventure'

Glenys Berd divorced her husband in 1990, some years after they separated. Although they are still friendly - they live across a hall from each other - she says she would not have started her successful internet business if she'd remained married.

Her European rights to American shoes that "look good and do you good" are worth £30m.

"It was a struggle after we first split up," says Ms Berd, who lives in Cheshire. "You live a certain way of life and all of a sudden it changes. I remember the first two weeks I didn't tell anyone. I felt there was a stigma."

She had met her husband at 17, married at 21 and divorced at 30, and was used to being part of a couple. It took an effort for her to attend her first New Year's eve party alone.

"That was a big hurdle," she says. "Society today makes women think they have to be one of a pair and it's hard to break out of that. But I started to think of it as an adventure and all of a sudden I began to enjoy it, there was a freedom."

Her internet company was started in 1997, and while she says her husband would never have held her back, she wouldn't have started it if she were still married.

"We were in a comfortable curve," she says. "I was in a comfortable situation, and you just trundle on."

Andrew Johnson


'If you are determined, you can succeed'

Fiona Hudson-Kelly from Rugby, Warwickshire, is the director of an IT company. She split from her husband five years ago, and now earns £60,000 a year. She is a former NatWest Businesswoman of the Year and has been short-listed for this year's CBI Woman of the Year. She says it is no coincidence that she launched Silver Lining Solutions just a year after splitting from her husband of 16 years. Her customers include O2 and Orange.

Ms Hudson-Kelly, now 43 and the mother of four children, says: "After a divorce, of course you are looking for a new start. For some it will be a new look or a new social life, but for me it was my business. Being independent can be tougher as you have nobody at your side ... but the busier you are, the more energy you have - and the higher you can lift the bar for success.

"If you are determined, you can succeed even though people think of you as being 'on your own'."

Linda Jones

The divorce that led to fairytale millions

J K Rowling has earned millions from the creation of boy-wizard Harry Potter, the world's favourite and most famous children's fictional character. Ms Rowling, 40, moved to Portugal at the age of 26 to teach English. There she married a Portuguese journalist while working on two "very bad" books. After her marriage ended in divorce, she moved to Edinburgh and finished her third book. She famously wrote in a café while her young daughter napped.