In 2008, maintenance law was fundamentally reformed. However, many people still have parts of the old regulation in mind, under which women, in particular, were "provided for" for life through marriage. Maria Lengemann from VFR-Verlag für Rechtsjournalismus ( publishing house for law journalism) sheds light on the issue for Fondsfrauen.

Reform of Maintenance Law

In 2008, maintenance law underwent a reform that was intended to change everything. Instead of the concept of provision, the new maintenance law was to introduce the principle of self-responsibility. The background was that it was no longer considered contemporary for a woman to be financially dependent on a man, and this should be reflected in the law.

The legislature hoped that the reform would motivate women to take up any missing employment after a divorce. At the same time, child support was to be prioritized over spousal support. This was also intended to reduce the financial burden on second families, which are increasingly common.

Reform Missed the Target

The desired effect of the reform, however, was not achieved. This is according to a new study by the RWI economic research institute. The study examines the period from 2018 to 2024. In these more than five years, no increase in employment among married women could be observed.

In plain language, this means that even today, people often still live according to the seemingly outdated cliché that the man primarily works full-time while the woman takes care of the children and the household—or works only part-time at most.

Women in Financial Hardship Due to Divorce

Due to the common phenomenon of women being secondary earners particulary women are at risk of poverty in the event of a divorce and often have to apply for social benefits. This is especially the case when the last job was many years ago or a recognized professional qualification is lacking. Often, a qualification is present but outdated. Despite the shortage of skilled workers, large gaps in the resume still pose a problem for HR departments, requiring at least an explanation.

The RWI study concludes that the intended principle of self-responsibility did not achieve the desired goal. It is also interesting that immediately after the reform (within the first year after the legislative change), the divorce rate increased. This may suggest that the higher-earning partner filed for divorce precisely when it was established by the reform that the ex-partner must take care of their own finances.

Starting a New Career is Often Difficult

In many respects, women are still at risk of poverty if the partner divorces them or if they themselves want the separation. It appears that starting a new career is difficult for them if they previously dedicated themselves to the household, children, and husband, thereby putting their own careers and further education on the back burner.

Due to the lack of years of work experience and incomplete further education, there are various hurdles that women have to overcome after a divorce if they paid less attention to their careers during the marriage than the man did.

Where is the Emancipation?

Increasing emancipation is evident in that more women than men file for divorce. In 2018, 52 percent of divorces were initiated by women. This makes it clear that a large proportion of women have already achieved financial independence. However, for those who do not divorce for financial reasons or are threatened with poverty due to a partner's divorce, this remains a problem. It is worth considering whether both partners should take care of both the children and their careers and therefore both reduce their working hours while the children are young.


The author of this article is Maria Lengemann, editor at "VFR-Verlag für Rechtsjournalismus".

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