For some time now, London has been making a name for itself as a good place to pursue a divorce. The perception is that this is especially true from a woman’s perspective, but is this reputation justified? Do the divorce laws in England and Wales ‘discriminate’ against husbands, or do they merely result in a fair and equitable distribution of a couple’s wealth upon separation?

Divorce capital of the world

Divorces in the capital attract a significant amount of press attention, which can mainly be attributed to the amount of financial compensation awarded to wives. For example, Heather Mills’s separation from Paul McCartney resulted in a £24.3 million payout in her favour. This is a small change, however, compared to the £750 million settlement reportedly paid by Bernie Ecclestone to his ex-wife Slavica. Recently, the top boss of major fashion retailer ASOS, Nick Robertson has been ordered to cough up almost a third of his £200 million wealth to his ex-wife following a bitter High Court divorce battle.

Such cases have helped facilitate the rise of divorce tourism, whereby wives attempt to use the courts in England and Wales to achieve prodigious settlements. Some even seek to plead before the English court after their home country has reached a verdict. A certain Nigerian wife’s settlement was believed to have increased tenfold after she moved proceedings from Lagos to London.

What is the situation for husbands?

In an international context, it does seem that the London courts are less institutionally biased against women when compared to their counterparts in other countries. This was perhaps in evidence during the landmark case White v White [2000]: the House of Lords held that money-earners should not retain a surplus in the event of a split, thus recognising the importance of work in the home and bringing up a family.

A distinct feature of the English system is that wealthy business owners cannot use company interests to shield their assets. In effect, spouses have access to a greater share of their partner’s wealth than that which they own personally.

The sizeable rewards granted to wives in divorce settlements can be attributed to the high level of discretion afforded to judges in this context. The court is free to evaluate individual scenarios on a case-by-case basis and to outline a fair division of wealth based on any number of factors, without being restricted by strict laws or precedent.

Is there an imbalance in London’s divorce culture?

Whatever the degree of perceived discrimination, perhaps it is not correct to say it works expressly against husbands, but rather it is the spouse making the most money who will find himself or herself on the defensive. Instead of interpreting this as a weakness of the English system, it could be deemed a strength. It shows that the system is working.

The main reason why London courts are the venue of choice for such matters is because they are swift and efficient. The bench is willing to take into account the overall nature of the relationship and not just who makes what. The epithet of ‘divorce capital of the world’ is not necessarily a label of scorn.