Rich spouses looking to divorce their
other halves were today warned by money experts to head out
of London, as it could soon become the most expensive divorce
location in the world.
According to an article in The Economist, the capital will
overtake New York as the priciest place to sever marital ties
if appeal court judges rule in a case pending that future
earnings as well as current assets should be shared between
divorcing partners on the dissolution of a marriage. Currently,
France is ranked in third place and Germany came in fourth.
Divorce legislation in each of the four locations was scored
on six criteria to work out where wealthy spouses considering
divorce would be worst off. Points were given for the acceptability
of prenuptial agreements, the treatment of assets accumulated
before and after the start of the marriage, the extent of
maintenance payments, whether conduct plays a role, and the
time and money involved in getting a divorce.
The article also revealed that the trend among dissatisfied
spouses is increasingly to leap into legal action rather than
trying to patch up their marriage. One of the main factors
leading to costly divorces in the England and the US, the
article found, was that while in countries such as Germany
and France property owned prior to the marriage is normally
excluded from settlements, here and in America it is all shared
out between husband and wife.
The Economist used the hypothetical example of a rich German
man living in London with an English wife. If he instigated
divorce proceedings in Germany he would, financially speaking,
get off relatively lightly, whereas in England he would face
a ruinous financial settlement.
"Global lifestyles and widely differing legal systems
give plenty of potential for discontented spouses wanting
a good deal," said a spokesman for the Economist. "If
you are rich, avoid London and head to the continent. If you're
the poorer party, do everything in your power to move your
spouse to London."
Opponent of child files welcomes bill
A prominent opponent of the plan to create
files on every child in England today welcomed concessions
by the government that would clarify what will be stored on
each child and who will have access to the information.
Eileen Munro, reader in social policy at the London School
of Economics, said that a proposed government amendment to
the children bill, which would limit the personal information
accessible on the files to basic details such as name and
address, was a significant compromise.
But she said that the changes did not go far enough in terms
of protecting children's privacy because professionals would
still be able to piece together a child's case history.
Education minister Catherine Ashton set out the proposed amendments
to the bill in the House of Lords following concerns from
peers that the proposal to create a network of child databases
across the country would grossly invade family privacy.
The amendments will list the basic information that the databases
would contain, which organisations would be allowed to add
information, and ensure that details of a particular child's
case history are not recorded.
"We intend to table a government amendment at report
that will list the types of basic information that the databases
will contain," Baroness Ashton told the committee hearing
on the bill on Monday.
"That includes: name; date of birth; address; a unique
identifying number; name and contact details of the person
with parental responsibility or in charge of day-to-day care
of the child; educational setting; GP practice details and
health visitor if there is one working with the child.
"Likewise, we are intending to put forward an amendment
that will set out on the face of the bill a list of statutory
bodies and other bodies that will be required or permitted
to supply information to the database."
Baroness Ashton admitted that the current wording of the bill
would allow professionals to record detailed information about
a particular child, but she said the former amendment would
ensure that only the name and contact details of any professional
providing services to a child were held on file.
She added that the information, referral and tracking trailblazers,
which are piloting local child databases, were taking steps
to ensure that only very senior practitioners are able to
access sensitive information on the databases, such as which
professionals were involved in a particular case.
Ms Munro said: "This is a significant climbdown. I'm
impressed that they've understood our concerns - to a certain
"But the name and contact details of the professionals
a child has been in contact with can tell you a lot, for example
if they've seen a child psychiatrist. Why should everyone
else in the child's network know about their problems?"
Another amendment would ensure that information from existing
public services' records transferred onto the proposed databases
was cross-checked to ensure its accuracy. The minister said
the amendments will be tabled at the report stage of the bill,
which will start on June 17.
Following the report stage, the proposed legislation will
have its third reading in the Lords before moving to the House
Unmarried woman wins share of former partner's home
By Robert Verkaik Legal Affairs Correspondent
25 May 2004
A judge has awarded a woman a £100,000 share of her
former partner's home even though the couple were not married
and she made no financial contribution to the mortgage.
The ruling could benefit thousands of other unmarried couples
who under the current law have no special rights to each other's
property when a relationship breaks down.
Elayne Oxley, 51, shared a home in Kent with Allan Hiscock,
54, for 16 years before she claimed a share of the property
when he ended the relationship.
In a complex 50-page judgment Lord Justice Chadwick ruled
that Ms Oxley is entitled to a 40 per cent share of Mr Hiscock's
£232,000 home in Hartley, near Dartford.
Ms Oxley told the court that although she had not paid the
mortgage she had contributed towards food and utility bills.
She hailed the ruling a victory for unmarried women.
"Women who live with their partners assume they are protected
but the law doesn't recognise the term 'common-law wife'.
My case will prevent other women enduring the anguish I have
been put through," she said.
Family law experts were more cautious. Nigel Shepherd, a spokesman
for the Family Solicitors Law Association, said: "The
case does not alter the fact that you do not get an entitlement
to a property owned by your partner simply by virtue of living
with them. There is still no such thing as a common-law marriage."
But he added: "Although not a landmark decision as such,
the judgment clarifies the approach to be taken in this type
of case and represents a more generous and fairer interpretation
of what remains an extremely complex area of law."
Ms Oxley was working with social services when she met Mr
Hiscock, an engineer at Dartford power station. "I wanted
to be married to him but he didn't want to for tax reasons,"
Mr Shepherd said the case showed that there was a real need
for a change in the law reflecting the rights of unmarried
couples who lived together.
What would it cost to bribe you
to have a child? Three thousand Australian dollars? One thousand
euros? Paid maternity leave? Flexible working policies? Or
none of the above?
The announcement by Peter Costello, Australia's treasurer
and prime ministerial hopeful, that women will be given incentives
of $3000 (£1200) for every newborn child, has sparked
a debate across the world. Two weeks after he suggested that
couples have 'one for your husband, one for your wife and
one for the country', the rights and wrongs of pro-natalist
policies is still a hot topic (1).
There has been noisy denunciation, from those arguing that
the scheme is a step back for women, a financial no-brainer
(a grand to raise a child? are you kidding?), and in any case
doomed to failure among everybody except schoolgirls, to whom
pregnancy may come to seem a sure-fire way of quadrupling
their annual pocket money. At the same time, there is a quiet
sense of relief that the problem of the plummeting fertility
rate in the West has finally been recognised, and governments
are prepared to do something about it.
But while it is a safe bet that pro-natalist policies such
as Costello's - and the similar cash incentive scheme recently
introduced by Italy's Berlusconi government - will not work,
this is not for the reasons that their critics suggest. If
women aren't having children, it cannot be reduced to a question
of expense, nor to the argument that they have better things
to do with their time. It's because of the peculiarly negative
culture that surrounds parenthood today, which is far stronger
than any number of state-sponsored pro-natalist incentives.
There is certainly something striking about the speed with
which the fertility rate is dropping in most of the developed
world. According to UN figures, between 1970-5 and 2000-05,
the total fertility rate (TFR) - defined as the number of
children that would be born to each woman if she were to live
to the end of her child-bearing years and bear children at
each age in accordance with prevailing age-specific fertility
rates - for the UK has fallen from 2.0 to 1.6. In other European
countries the decline is even more marked. Over the same time
period, Iceland's TFR has fallen from 2.8 to 2.0; Spain's
from 2.9 to 1.2, and Italy's from 2.3 to 1.2. Australia's
total fertility rate has fallen from 2.5 to 1.7 (2).
The exception to the rule is the USA, where the fertility
rate has risen slightly, from 2.0 to 2.1. Only Finland and
Equatorial Guinea seem to share this experience. Much has
been made of the UK's recent rise in the number of births
- 621,469 in 2003, an increase of 4.3 percent on 2002. But
this can hardly be heralded as a turnaround - it has come
after 10 years of steady decline from 1990 levels (3).
What is the problem here? It is not a demographic one. Much
is made of the fact that the fertility rate in much of the
world has fallen under 'replacement levels' (the level of
fertility at which a couple has only enough children to replace
themselves) of 2.1. But that does not mean that the human
race is about to die out - the world's population currently
stands at six billion, and worldwide the fertility rate is
2.7. The fact that concern focuses on the 'high income' countries,
where the TFR is 1.7, is partly spurred by the old racial
fear of the 'wrong kind' of people reproducing in the 'wrong
kind' of countries. Yet throughout the whole world, the fertility
rate has almost halved in the past 30 years - making the always-overblown
panics about an overpopulated Africa/India/China taking over
a dying Europe seem even more preposterous today (4).
The most powerful demographic concern to come to the fore
in recent years has focused upon ageing. The combination of
rising life expectancy and falling fertility in the developed
world has led politicians and analysts to worry incessantly
about the affordability of pensions, healthcare and other
geriatric paraphernalia. But as Phil Mullan argues, the relationship
of ageing to economic growth means that this process is easily
affordable, provided society shows the flexibility and fore-sightedness
to organise around it - and is prepared to take advantage
of the contribution that can be made by older people who are
healthier and more active than previous generations (5). The
fact that, instead, the developed world is tending to panic
in the face of ageing shows the fearful, narrow character
of the demographic debate.
When it comes to the question of why the falling fertility
rate is a problem, none of the demographic arguments stand
up. By the same token, the recent attempts at demographic
solutions do not look even plausible. Peter Costello, for
example, admits that a government bribe of $3000 is not going
to encourage people to have children (although if the Australian
government really does believe that, one wonders if its motive
for introducing the payment really can be as innocuous as
Costello has argued: '[Parents] are struggling with a lot
of costs and if the government can help them, then they should')
(6). Nor is it likely that state payments of any sort will
encourage families to have more children - 'one for the country',
and all that.
Kids are not a financial decision, calculated
in bald terms of cost or benefit
Historically, it has always been the social
classes with the lowest incomes that have had more children.
Kids are not a financial decision, calculated in bald terms
of cost or benefit, and people's reproductive behaviour is
no more susceptible to crude manipulation by the market than
it is determined by the supply of condoms or population control
policies. Broader, more complex social trends inform the fertility
rate - and in the developed world today, these trends are
far from positive.
As history has shown, a fall in the fertility rate per se
is not a negative thing. It is related to industrialisation,
to the level of economic and social development, which is
related to improvements in infant mortality levels, increases
in life expectancy, and greater affluence across society.
The fact that, in the West today, people can choose their
ideal family size, (relatively) safe in the knowledge that
their children will not die before them and they will not
have to rely on their children to boost the household income
is a clear mark of progress. Even if that did mean that the
fertility rate fell way below replacement levels, with some
couples having only one child and others none at all, this
would not necessarily be a bad thing.
But there is a negative undercurrent to reproductive trends
in the developed world, which is reflected in the angst-ridden
discussion about the fertility rate and the policy solutions
it provokes. From worries about the affordability of children
alongside the potential expense incurred by ageing parents,
the burden of parenthood versus the advantages of a life with
no ties, the fears of the unpredictable impact a child can
have on one's career/sexual relationship/self-identity, the
fear of responsibility faced by 'kidults' in their thirties
who barely feel old enough to be responsible for themselves,
the general anxiety about whether this is the kind of world
in which one wants to raise a child anyway - these are the
kind of considerations that dominate an ever-more fraught
discussion about what children, ultimately, are for.
This indicates that people are not choosing childlessness
for positive reasons, so much as drifting into it out of anxiety
about the future, and about the consequences of parenthood.
Set against all these worries, the perks of a few quid in
government money and the admonition that you need kids to
support you in your old age is not exactly convincing.
More to the point, state pro-natalist policies that emphasise
the need for incentives to help with the vast expense of having
kids ('You have a baby you have to buy the nappies and the
bottle and the bouncinette and the capsule for the back of
the car and the cot and you have got to have a room to put
the baby in, you need the formulas and all those things',
explains Costello helpfully), while providing only a few quid
in practice, seem most likely to fuel the negativity surrounding
childrearing (7). The official focus on the ageing question,
with the implicit notion that people have a responsibility
to reproduce a new generation of elder-carers, contributes
to the instrumental view of parenthood.
The most miserablist aspect of the pro-natalism debate, however,
is the way it has turned what were once progressive policy
discussions about people's ability to participate in society
as a whole into a narrow, backward demographic obsession.
Tax breaks and state benefits, which were once justified primarily
by the need to help lower-income parents pay for the basics
for their children, are now seen simply as bribes.
Paid maternity leave - once seen as key to allowing women's
full participation in the world of work - now tends to be
discussed in terms of a financial incentive to encourage them
to breed. Flexible working policies, which at one time would
be a welcome feature of modern society, allowing employees
more autonomy in the organisation of their working day, are
in today's context promoted as halfhearted measures to allow
mothers to skive off both work and full-time mothering - as
if in recognition that nobody in their right mind can be expected
to give a wholehearted commitment to work or to parenthood.
And on it goes.
Peter Costello can try and exhort people all he likes to have
'one for your husband, one for your wife and one for the country'.
But how is this going to work, when people are struggling
to work out whether they even want one for themselves. If
governments want to encourage parents, they should keep their
noses (and their calculators) out of people's reproductive