McCartney-Mills and divorce

// 18 March 2008

I’ve been brewing a post on this for some time, and now Helen has pipped me to the post! But I have two points to make about the Macca vs Mucca divorce.

The first is that the level of hatred directed at Heather Mills has been breathtaking. We cannot possibly know the facts about either of them, about what their personalities really are, or whether the various allegations flying around are true. For what it’s worth, I feel sorry for her, and suspect she’s the victim of a particularly vicious press. Moreover, I don’t think her claims were particularly outragous. She’s looking after his child, who presumably ought to be privileged to a similar lifestyle that her (rich and famous) brothers and sisters enjoyed. And Heather alleges she turned down career opportunities in favour of concentrating on marriage and home on Paul’s wishes. If that’s true she should be compensated (more of that here). But that’s not really what I want to focus on because the point I was coming round to making is this:

This obsessive focus of the media on high-profile divorce cases (frequently with a tone of disapproval aboutgold digging women‘) is misleading. The truth is this: women are overwhelmingly made worse off when their marriage breaks down. Men overwhelmingly get better off. Recently published research from the Institute for Social and Economic Research has found that women who split from their husbands between 1998 and 2004 were on average 12% worse off than they had been before in financial terms. Their ex-husbands, gallingly, get 31% richer.

Income levels are at their lowest for separated women in the year immediately following the split, as might be expected, and slowly recover. Still, after 5 years, women’s average income remains 10% lower than it was before. Those women who are able to work or who find another partner do much better, but non-working separated mothers face particular financial hardship.

This is actually a big improvement from the picture just a few short years ago – married women separating in the early ’90s got 30% poorer whilst their husbands got 36% richer. This improvement is not due to any sudden enlightenment on the part of the courts (“Hey! She’s looking after the kids! If anyone has more money to throw around, shouldn’t it be her?”). The relative change for men over the 1990s isn’t big enough to explain this trend – the extra money that women are getting is not coming from them. In fact, the change is attributed to the increase in employment amongst single parent women, in particular the compensatory effect of measures such as the Working Family Tax Credit.

Essentially, then, when marriages break up, the courts fail to enforce equitable settlements, women as single parents are forced into work regardless of whether they think this is best for their family, and the taxpayer subsidises the whole caboodle. Men, one assumes, get themselves a PS2 with their spare cash and wait mournfully for every second weekend. Why aren’t the newspapers reporting on that?

And Mills-McCartney? Well, whatever her faults, it looks to me as though she’s getting poorer …

Comments From You

Helen G // Posted 18 March 2008 at 8:10 pm

Aww Lynne, I’m sorry! Although, in fairness. the depth of research shines out from this post.

I’m writing this on Tuesday evening – the divorce judge’s ruling has now been published (all 58 pages of it) – the BBC has a PDF copy available for download by clicking here and, if the Channel 4 news report is to be believed, Mr Justice Bennett has been just as scathing towards HMM as the press.

I’m still uneasy about the sheer size of the sums of money involved – after all, a loaf of bread is the same price whether you’re a multimillionaire or living in poverty.

However, there is perhaps little point in being irritated by this particular couple; rather. it makes me wonder about the kind of society in which we live where there are people with almost immeasurable wealth while others have to live on the streets.

EBaezaChavez // Posted 18 March 2008 at 8:44 pm

Great post Lynne. The media consistently deny the fact that single working mothers are the “new poor” with stories like the Mills-McCartney split. In fact I would say things are worse now because of the reliance on working tax credit. It has placed alot of families in very vulnerable situations, should a new government choose to scrap this.

I actually think the taxpayer is subsidising business rather than the families themselves— if women could earn a decent wage working part time, then there would be a neglible need for working tax credit.

Lynne Miles // Posted 18 March 2008 at 9:08 pm

EBaeza – totally agree with you on WFTC – it is a scandal that we subsidise business to get away with rates of pay which will not support a family, not to mention a massive distortion of the market. Businesses should be forced to pay a living wage but they never will be if people can avoid poverty through government topups. I think they’re a well-intentioned benefit, but they end up giving businesses a free ride.

Helen – not a problem! Have only read snippets of the judge’s ruling, but the tone of it has already got my hackles up. He sounds like a sexist old goat who’s enjoying rubbing her nose in it.

Holly Combe // Posted 18 March 2008 at 9:49 pm

There was a lengthy discussion about Heather McCartney-Mills on the Victoria Derbyshire show today and I was pleasantly surprised to hear plenty of people defending her. In particular, one guy said that the way the Daily Mail has treated her is the main thing that’s led him to be on her side.

The tabloids’ appalling bullying of HMM just cancels out any need for analysis of her character as far as I’m concerned. They started the campaign against her almost as soon as she got together with Paul and the “she asked for it” rhetoric they use to excuse it is just sickening. One caller referenced Paul’s musical success and said all she had done was take her top off. He then said she should have kept her mouth shut. How dare the wife of a Beatle get all high and mighty! She ought to be forever humbled to her man!

From what I can gather, there was plenty of vitriol directed at Yoko Ono all those years ago and even the eventually accepted Linda McCartney.

james // Posted 20 March 2008 at 1:18 am

“Men, one assumes, get themselves a PS2 with their spare cash and wait mournfully for every second weekend. Why aren’t the newspapers reporting on that?”

Because it’s complete nonsense, and you’re using the statistics as thinly veiled progadanda.

The research doesn’t show that women were worse off and men were better off. It compared the equivalized household net income of the household to which the individual belongs.

This has nothing to do with an ‘equitable’ divorce settlement. Courts can’t make settlements based upon the future income and needs of the ex-spouses households. It’s not their place to be redistributing or taking into account the income of the ex-husband’s future girlfriends, or to make arrangement for supporting the future children and boyfriends of ex-wives. They’re not parties to the marriage.

jane smith // Posted 20 March 2008 at 5:03 am

I feel very sorry for Heather Mills. I do not like the comments that were in Judge Bennett’s ruling. This is a ghastly situation for Heather and terribly unfair. I hope that she knows that there are many people who are on her side.

Lynne Miles // Posted 20 March 2008 at 8:46 am


“Courts can’t make settlements based upon the future income and needs of the ex-spouses households”

Why on earth not? I’m no expert in law, but isn’t that *exactly* what they should do? I’m talking primarily about cases where children are involved of course.

It is *exactly* the court’s place to be making judgements on redistribution because household income and assets up until the point of the divorce are common to all members of the family. In the absence of a private agreement, the sole function of the court is to redistribute equitably, and with a particular view to maintaining a comparable standard of living for children.

The survey compares net household incomes which are adjusted to take account of the number of people in the household (ie to include children). Of course divorce settlements shouldn’t take account of the financial needs of future partners, or children of future relationships and, so far as I’m aware, they don’t. But I don’t see why the mother embarking on a new relationship should absolve the father of the responsibility to financially support his children which seems to be what you’re suggesting.

Evie Wallace // Posted 20 March 2008 at 12:16 pm

I read the Judge’s ruling and I really don’t think he came across as a ‘sexist old goat who enjoyed rubbing Heather’s nose in it’. If anything, the judgement was fair and reasonable. And if you look at what she was claiming, for example that she gave up a very lucrative career to support McCartney, the figures on her tax return don’t bear this out. Neither does her much vaunted ‘I give 80 – 90% of my earnings to charideee’. Not according to her tax return she doesn’t. She was demanding more than half a million per year for 24 hour round the clock security for her and Beatrice. McCartney made it clear he did not want his daughter to live in a ‘gilded cage’. I completely agree that she’s been very badly bullied by the media and yes, that’s inexusable, but the fact remains that there seems to be a huge gap between Heather Mills’s version of reality and actual reality.

Lynne Miles // Posted 20 March 2008 at 3:13 pm

Good Guardian piece by Kira Cochrane today (I like her… )

Also I’m totally in love with this Joan Smith quote I’ve never come across before:

“when a man calls a woman a whore, he usually means two things: that she enjoys sex too much, and she isn’t doing it with him”

james // Posted 20 March 2008 at 7:40 pm

“Of course divorce settlements shouldn’t take account of the financial needs of future partners, or children of future relationships and, so far as I’m aware, they don’t.”

If you really believe this then why are you quoting a statistics that takes into account the financial income and needs of future partners, and children of future relationships? It seems very dishonest to do this while wrongly attributing the income to the ‘ex-husband’ and the ‘ex-wife’ and brushing what the statistic really represents under the carpet.

Lynne Miles // Posted 20 March 2008 at 8:43 pm

If you really believe this then why are you quoting a statistics that takes into account the financial income and needs of future partners, and children of future relationships?

I’m not sure I entirely understand your point. Are you saying that the study data is biased because it will include income from new partners?

The study uses household income from all sources (so, yes, would include income from a new partner for those who had one). By the fifth year after their split less than half of the sample had repartnered, and if those observations were excluded from the analysis the average divorced woman’s income would be lower rather than higher – which would prove my point still further.

As it is, the author points out that women who repartner have a significantly higher income by the fifth year after their separation than those who remain single – in fact, it’s a third higher than before their divorce – and yet, despite the presence of these women, the median is still a 12% income drop. That says to me there are some women out there who are doing very badly indeed out of marital breakdown (and according to this study it’s the ones who have kids and no job).

Or perhaps you meant that if a man repartners and has a future partner and future children to support the settlement should be renegotiated? Which I would disagree with, as everyone’s decision to have a second/third/etc child should (in an ideal world) take account of whether they can afford to support another one.

Or perhaps I’ve misunderstood you completely, in case please feel free to clarify your point.

David Space // Posted 27 March 2008 at 4:41 am

Yes, men may eventually end up ‘better off’ after divorce but of course they would often be better off still if they’d never married in the first place. Meanwhile a woman with lower earnings prospects who starts with no pre-marital assets and marries a millionaire may be worse off after divorce than before it, but she’ll be a whole lot better off after marriage than before it.

In other words – relative financial positions before and after MARRIAGE are what’s relevant in working out who benefits most. And here those women who have lower earnings prospects and marry successful men clearly benefit financially. As do those women who have higher earnings prospects but who decide they’d actively prefer to stay home than go out to work. (In these cases the women get the lifestyle they prefer, financed by someone else’s efforts). In fact only women who have higher earnings prospects and stay home against their preference can truly claim to have lost out.

It seems truly absurd to suggest a woman who’s walked off with half a millionaire’s cash is hard done by because he’s recovered better than her five years later.

As for Heather Mills, yes she was badly treated by the press. But to suggest her ‘lost opportunities’ entitled her to £125m is just crazy. She had shown no signs whatsoever of being capable of making that kind of money so she certainly didn’t miss those kinds of opportunities. As for her child having the same standards of living as Paul’s other children – she clearly will. You seem to forget she’s also HIS child and will therefore benefit from his wealth as well as Heather’s. (If “benefit” is the right word. She could of course end up as troubled as so many other children of very rich parents).

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