THE BLOG

Separation, the City and Spousal Support

01/05/2013 11:27 BST | Updated 29/06/2013 10:12 BST

It is no secret that London is regarded by many people as "the world's divorce capital".

That label does not necessarily refer to the number of separations handled by that city's courts or even for its making world record-breaking settlements.

Rather, it could be argued that London has developed a unique appeal because of its being regarded as "wife-friendly" in terms of the way in which marital assets have been divided in recent years.

The pendulum had begun to swing in wives' favour with a House of Lords' decision in 2001 which saw Pamela White exit her 33-year marriage and the family farming business with a £1.5 million lump sum.

However, the pace quickened noticeably with three significant rulings within the space of three months. On the same day in May 2006, Law Lords decided that Julia McFarlane was entitled to maintenance of £250,000 a year for life and that Maria Miller could keep a £5 million share of her husband's fortune despite their being married for less than three years.

In August of that year, Beverley Charman was awarded what was then the largest divorce settlement in British legal history - a £48 million payout from her insurance tycoon husband, John.

The judgements were followed by other high-profile cases and helped fuel a rise in so-called 'forum shopping', with many unhappy foreign wives choosing to have their divorces heard in the UK. They believed that they too might benefit from the supposedly "wife-friendly" approach of the courts, as one of my colleagues, Vicki McLynn, outlined in a previous article for the Huffington Post.

There are, of course, many spouses unable to shop around different national jurisdictions because they do not enjoy the same gilded, international lifestyle as the very wealthy.

Even these husbands and wives, though, still compete to have their divorces heard in areas which they believe will provide them with a more favourable outcome.

As a result of research by Pannone and the experiences of other family lawyers around England and Wales, an apparent pattern in the way settlements are dealt with has emerged - a 'maintenance map', if you will. In essence, wives whose divorces are handled by courts in cities seem more likely to secure generous settlements than those who separate in the provinces.

Provincial courts, it appears, are less likely to receive spousal maintenance on top of whatever share of joint marital assets which they may have secured.

It is almost as though wives who separate outside major conurbations such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol or Leeds are being urged "to stand on their own two feet" once their marriages are over.

What we are seeing is a complicated picture which certainly does not represent a regional bias in favour of one spouse or another. Instead, it illustrates the wide variety in interpretation and discretion applied by courts in different parts of the country.

The consequence is that wives from the North may want their cases heard in London because they feel that they have a better chance of securing capital and generous maintenance. I have been told that in the North East, meanwhile, maintenance awards were infrequent at best.

It's not simply a North-South settlement divide. There are considerable local and regional variations as well.

What it reflects too, I might add, is more than the thinking of a particular court. The mindset of husbands also comes into play.

Many men are not necessarily opposed to the idea of making suitable provision for their ex-wives when they go their separate ways. They realise, though, that a maintenance order creates the possibility of the nature of such support being revised upwards or even capitalised into a single lump sum at some point in the future.

To an ex-husband who might have improved his life and finances are a marriage ended, a future claim from a former wife who had seen him prosper after they parted is an unwelcome prospect and something which they will do their utmost to avoid.