Is it possible to have it all? For many people, the answer depends on what ‘having it all’ means to them. Having children and working your way up the career ladder in a highly competitive industry, can be a tough balance. Most people will have to make sacrifices along the way and for many women (and some men), either family or career may, sadly, have to take a back seat.

So what happens when one party chooses family over their career and the relationship later breaks down? In these circumstances, something known as ‘relationship-generated disadvantage’ can occur.

Woman awarded £400k after sacrificing her career to start a family

In a landmark divorce ruling, the wife of a solicitor has been awarded £400,000 by the family court, after giving up the chance of becoming a partner at a law firm in order to begin a family with her husband.

The judge, Mr Justice Moor, ruled that there was sufficient ‘relationship-generated disadvantage’ in order for the wife to receive compensation.

What’s the history of the case?

The couple got engaged after meeting at a law firm where they both worked (the wife as a trainee, the husband as an associate solicitor). After the engagement, the wife converted from trainee to in-house lawyer.

The judge felt that the wife stood ‘a very good chance’ of making partner.

The published judgement says: “It is agreed that the husband did not want her to remain at the firm if they were to marry and she accepted that she could not remain.”

Mr Justice Moor goes on to say that he was satisfied that, by the time the decision was made that the wife would leave the firm, she had already made a plan, “which involved both marriage, and, hopefully, children”. He added that the wife saw herself as the person who would take primary responsibility for their children.

“The husband’s career took precedence”.

Future relationship-generated disadvantage claims

Mr Justice Moor said that this should not be taken as a “green light” for other divorcing couples to make relationship-generated disadvantage claims like this, “unless the circumstance are truly exceptional”.

“I have already made the point that, in many of these cases, the assets will be such that any loss is already covered by the applicant’s sharing claim. In other cases, the assets/income will be insufficient to justify such a claim in the first place.”

Neil Graham, a Partner at Grayfords, comments as follows:  “this is an interesting case which acknowledges the concept of compensation identified by the House of Lords, as it then was, in MacFarlane -v- MacFarlane [2006] UKHL 24 as an important way of redressing significant economic disparity arising from the way in which the parties have conducted their marriage. In that judgment the House of Lords made it clear that the principle of equal sharing and the “yardstick of equality” should be regarded as an aid rather than a rule.  In this judgment Mr Justice Moor makes it clear that the concept of compensation will only apply in “truly exceptional” circumstances where the loss can be made out, where the loss cannot be covered by the principle of sharing and, by extension, where the assets are sufficient enough to bear it.

It is worth remembering that the effect of section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes act is non gender specific and applies equally to same sex marriages and to civil partnerships.  The key, however, to establishing a claim for compensation will be the way in which the parties have chosen to conduct their relationship and whether the very limited circumstances identified by Mr Justice Moor in his judgment apply to the facts and assets of a specific case.”   

For women (and, of course, some men) who have chosen to put family ahead of their career, getting a divorce can be a daunting prospect. Get in touch to book your free appointment with one of experienced divorce lawyers to discuss your rights and options.

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