Women forced to stay in unhappy marriages due to cost of living crisis

‘Our mortgage has just increased by £350 a month’ says Stacey,* from Leicester. ‘I was secretly saving up money so I could leave my husband, but it’s a lost cause now.’

At the start of last year, Stacey, 42, was ready to call it quits on her marriage to husband, Dev*. The mum-of-three began looking at rental properties and researching the benefits she may be entitled to.

But then, the cost of living crisis hit – and everything changed.

With her husband the main breadwinner, earning twice her salary, Stacey knew she couldn’t afford to live independently from him.

Now, she says she’s trapped in her marriage, and ‘so unhappy’. Her husband sleeps in the spare room – and she’s embarked on an affair.

‘I’m miserable, and it’s obvious,’ she says. ‘But there’s nothing I can do.’

Stacey isn’t alone. On average, a divorce in the UK costs around £14,561 in legal fees – an eye-watering amount of money when families are already struggling to pay the bills.

In the year leading up to January 2023, gas prices increased by 129.4%, and electricity by 66.7%, while the price of food and drink rose by 16.8%

And, when it comes to a financial crisis, women are always hit the hardest.

The gender pay gap still exists in the UK, with women on average earning 8.3% less than men. Research from the Fawcett Society shows that 35% of women would like to work more paid hours than they currently do. but are unable to due to a lack of flexible working options, caring responsibilities and affordable childcare. For women of colour, this number rises to 43%.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that men are more likely to have savings than women – men hold an average of £30,089 in ISA savings, compared to £27,098 for women.

As a result, a recent survey by law firm, Slater + Gordon, found that 35% of people say the cost of living crisis has prevented them from starting divorce proceedings, and it’s now the most common reason – ahead of concerns for the children – preventing people from going their separate ways.

For Stacey, cracks started to show in her marriage after the birth of her three children.

She says: ‘Dev became resentful about how low down on my priority list he’d become.

‘We were always bickering and it was clear to me that we should end things.

‘I planned to get together a little nest egg, and leave in the summer.’

But when the cost of living crisis hit last year, the couple’s outgoings shot up. ‘Our mortgage went up by £350 and the food shop doubled.

‘I stopped being able to pilfer away cash into my ‘running away’ fund without Dev noticing.’

While Stacey had planned to move into a rented home, she soon realised this was out of the question.

‘I couldn’t save for a deposit, and then headlines about how the rental market was out of control made me realise that I’d never be able to afford a place big enough for me and the kids anyway.

‘Dev is the main breadwinner – he earns £50k to my £25k. I felt like I had no choice but to stay.’

A friend going through a similar situation confirmed to Stacey that she had also run out of options. ‘My friend is in the process of a divorce and she had to sell her house and car to cover the costs. After that, it was clear to me I wasn’t going anywhere.’

Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Stacey has turned elsewhere for comfort. She says: ‘I connected with a guy on Instagram – what started off as messaging has now turned physical.

‘I feel awful lying to Dev, but I craved the love and attention I wasn’t getting at home.’

Stacey’s situation is one that Judy*, from London, can also relate to. After being declared bankrupt five years ago, her relationship with her husband of eight years, Simon*, began to suffer.

Their issues have only been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis.

Judy, 55, says: ‘My husband has always been very concerned with money. He earns around £60k a year, and when I first met him, he was saving half of his monthly income.

‘When I was declared bankrupt, our lives changed dramatically. I had a large property portfolio which I lost, and we were evicted from our home because it was in my name.

‘Ever since then, money has been the main source of tension between us. We argue all the time, and life just isn’t fun anymore.’

While Judy is involved in three start-ups, which she hopes will soon start bringing in revenue, it’s her husband who pays all the bills.

She says: ‘I simply couldn’t afford my lifestyle without him – all of our household bills have gone up by 40% in the past year, and the food shop has gone up by about 18%.’

But relying on his so heavily has caused resentment.

‘I’m a very social person, but he never wants to leave the house,’ says Judy. ‘In the past year, we’ve been out as a couple together just twice. It also draws us further apart.

‘I found tickets to a comedy show for just £5 each, and it caused such a big argument, that we didn’t go.’

Divorce: What are your options?

Lisa Pepper is a lawyer and accredited mediator at Osbornes Law. She says: ‘Getting a divorce itself isn’t that expensive. Couples can go online and pay around £590 for the privilege.

‘But you have to be very careful when you take this course of action because no financial settlement has been agreed – both spouses will still have a financial claim on the other.

‘So, for example, your partner could stay lay claim to your pension, or any inheritance money you may receive.

‘However, going through the courts, where things like spousal support payments will be determined, is where the costs come in.

‘As an alternative, I always encourage my clients to try mediation. It’s much cheaper – around £300 per session – and could help you come to a compromise without involving a judge, and racking up a huge bill.’

Judy says if she could leave her husband, she would.

‘I don’t have a plan B, so I’m stuck. He’s a good man, and I’m lucky he’s supported me through my financial situation, but we both know we’re not meant to be a couple anymore.’

With the rise in the cost of living showing no signs of stalling – think tank, the Resolution Foundation, states that we are only at the ‘half way stage’ – many couples are stuck in a stalemate.

For Stacey, this means trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

She says: ‘I can’t leave Dev, so I’m doing what I can to get our spark back.

‘We’ve had to work as a team to manage our finances, and it’s reminded me what a reliable, dependable guy he is.

‘We haven’t put the heating on for ages, which means cosying up together on the sofa, and we’ve cancelled our TV subscriptions, so we talk more.

‘If we can afford it, we may even book a few days away together.

‘Who knows what the future holds – maybe something good can come out of all this.’

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