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Alpha women and divorce. What happens when the woman is the main breadwinner?

This article appeared in the November 2009 edition of Profile magazine.

We"ve all heard of the Alpha male, the dominant one, the leader of the pack. Well this is 2009, times have changed, and we now have their counterpart, the Alpha woman.

Alpha women are independent, intelligent,divorce solicitors sheffield and rotherham attractive, shrewd and good at making money. They know what they want and how to get it; think Madonna, Katie Price and Oprah.

Of course most Alpha women are not famous but are successful businesswomen or have excelled in their chosen career and risen to the top, along with their income.

Recent estimates suggest that 1 in 5 women now earn more than their husband. As a divorce lawyer it is interesting for me to see how this reversal of the traditional family roles, where the man is not the main breadwinner, has changed the public's perception about who should get what in a divorce settlement.

We"re all aware of high profile cases of women who marry a wealthy man and, after a few years, walk away with a substantial pay out when they divorce; but what about when things are the other way around?

You don"t have to look far to find cases where a man has benefited financially from being married to an Alpha woman. Reports have suggested that Guy Ritchie was awarded £45 million in his divorce from Madonna, even though he was already worth £30 million himself (compared to her £300 million). Anne Robinson is said to have paid her ex-husband £20 million, and Vanessa Feltz was ordered to pay her surgeon ex £1.5 million, after he reportedly had an affair.

So how are divorce settlements arrived at? And where do you stand if you are a high earning woman?

Many factors are taken into account including the length of the marriage, what assets both parties take into the marriage and their respective future earnings capabilities. Where children are involved, this will have a substantial effect on the outcome. In some cases, the courts will take into account that the wife's high earnings afforded the husband a correspondingly high standard of living, which he could not afford to sustain based on his own earnings alone. Any settlement may reflect this by awarding him a payout in the form of cash, assets or ongoing maintenance payments.

Some people may feel that they are being penalised for being a high earner, but the law looks upon marriage as a sharing of all assets and, importantly, there is no gender bias - men and women are treated equally by the courts.

So what can you do? If you are taking substantial wealth into a new relationship, you should consider a prenuptial agreement to try and protect against losing out down the road. If it's already too late for that, you need to get a good divorce lawyer, and speak to them as early in the process as possible. A good lawyer can have a significant influence on the negotiations and will do everything possible to ensure that you achieve the most favourable settlement available.

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