Gold-diggers are planning their exit strategies now their City husbands’ bonuses are evaporating, according to these worried cuckolds of the Square Mile. A new survey commissioned by the doyenne of the divorce courts, Sandra Davis at Mishcon de Reya, says that one-fifth of high earners have colleagues who have been served with divorce papers since credit started being crunched. Half of all workers say their bonuses have been cut by up to £40,000, while four-fifths fear the economic downturn will lead to a romantic downturn. There is a startling majority (68 per cent) who fear divorce settlements of up to £500,000.
The wives of city high-flyers will fly the coop as 96 per cent of executives curse the day they put love over money and decided not to get a pre-nup. Perhaps the men deserve it: according to the research, the ‘other women’ (mistresses and girlfriends) face a budget cut before wives, the credit crunch punishing infidelity. Relationships will crumble faster than a credit rating after a W10 repossession.
That, at least, is the paranoia we can read from the figures. But these figures are worrying, for two reasons. They are largely framed with an apparently inherent misogyny as the responses of men – wives are divorcing, girlfriends and mistresses are leaving. Where are the female executives? It would be just as interesting – in fact, more so – to know whether kept husbands are planning on consulting their solicitors, whether women suffer the same worries. It is hard for women to succeed like men to start with; certainly the credit crunch makes a bad situation worse.
What is more substantial is the question of whether we are to accept that these partners really are fair-weather wives who are only with their men for their money. This is a covetous class of Burberry brides, we must believe. Of course, there may certainly be a contingent of these, but there will be among any group, and only ten per cent of those surveyed actually feared imminent divorce. This image of women having their eyes on the bottom line, panicking when an extravagance is toned down into a mere luxury, is surely not one we want to perpetuate.
Nevertheless, there are clear signs that – whoever is responsible – divorces will rise. Official statistics on how the credit crunch has affected the rates of divorce in England do not come out for some time, but it is possible to envisage how the credit crunch might affect them. If we can judge by the last recessionary period in the late eighties and early nineties, divorce rates rose among men 20-39 (presumably including many of our thrusting executives) from 26 per 1000 in 1989 to 28 in 1992, twice the national average. Although divorce rates have now fallen steeply among these men to 23.4 per 1000, we can see that – with the delay of a couple of years – they could well start creeping up.
There is a contrasting theory too. When couples divorce, one of the principal assets which must be divided is the house (or houses). In the current economic climate, where house prices in most of the market are falling and negative equity is looming, divorce may look less attractive because of the loss in property values it might entail. If you wait for a recovery in the market, suddenly the proceeds of divorce are more worth one’s while.
This is not to say that couple should stay together for the sake of bricks and mortar. Marriages will be dissolved for countless reasons, most of them unrelated to bonuses – but the loss of a significant source of income is hardly a recipe for wedded bliss.