White v White [2000]

Colour photo of identical town houses painted different colours, yellow and grey

Prior to the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, on marriage a woman’s property passed in common law to her husband. Since then married women have been able to own their own property, but English law has never adopted a system of community of property, as is normal in many American states and continental jurisdictions, according to which property is equally shared between the spouses. As a result, in English law, during marriage each spouse owns the property they brought into the marriage and the property they earned during it. Historically, this worked to the disadvantage of women and meant that until the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act the husband could on divorce walk away with all or a large proportion of assets.

The real significance of this case is that it is one of the few areas of law in which care work is valued and recognised, and even said to be valued as equal to money-making… [However] if the law is serious about the claim in White v White that we should value equally caregiving and money making we need vast changes in the law and societal structures. The achievement in White v White hardly deserves being called a scratch on the surface of that aim.

Jonathan Herring

The decision of White v White is one of the most striking acknowledgements of the value of carework in the law, and provides a powerful statement of equality between husbands and wives.

The full version of this landmark is written by Jonathan Herring.


Learn More

BBC News, ‘Divorce Money Battles Hot Up’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1500573.stm

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘How London Earned its Status as Divorce Capital of the World’ https://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/mar/03/london-status-divorce-capital

Jonathan Herring, ‘All’s Fair in Love and…’ (2013) New Law Journal https://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/content/all’s-fair-love-and…