In March 2015 in the highly publicised case of Vince v Wyatt the Supreme Court held that Kathleen Wyatt’s claim against Dale Vince could not be struck out as the merits of the case had to be fully considered.
The couple separated in 1984 following the birth of their son Dane, but were not formally divorced until 1992. At the time neither of them had much money. Mr Vince later went on to develop a wind turbine power company, Ecotricity, which became very successful and resulted in him building up a substantial fortune and becoming a multimillionaire.
In 2011 Ms Wyatt brought a claim for a financial remedy as no final financial order had been made when the parties divorced in 1992. Mr Dale made an application to strike out her claim on the grounds that her application had ‘no real prospect of success’. His application to strike out succeeded at the High Court and Ms Wyatt appealed to the Court of Appeal. Her appeal was dismissed with Lord Justice Thorpe commenting that Mr Vince was not ‘her insurer against life’s eventualities’.
Ms Wyatt then appealed to the Supreme Court. In granting her appeal Lord Wilson commented that Ms Wyatt’s application faced ‘formidable difficulties’ bearing in mind that the period of marital cohabitation lasted for a little over 2 years and broke down 31 years ago. The delay in bringing her application was described as ‘inordinate’ but nonetheless the court could not reach an immediate decision to strike out an application as the merits of each case have to be fully considered.
Ms Wyatt’s claim will shortly be heard by a family court. The Supreme Court indicated that Ms Wyatt has hurdles to overcome, including why it had taken her so long to make the claim and the fact that Mr Vince’s fortune had been made after their separation. It is anticipated that Ms Wyatt will receive a modest award to assist her with housing. However, we will have to wait and see what the family court decides.
Lord Wilson stated that Ms Wyatt made a strong point that the court must have regard to ‘the contributions which each of the parties has made…to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family’. Those contributions are not limited to the period prior to separation, and Ms Wyatt has been strongly relying upon her care of the children following separation in the absence of any significant financial or other contribution from Mr Wyatt to the children’s care during those years.
Whilst the facts of this case concern considerable wealth, the implications of this decision could affect the average person of modest means. The Supreme Court decided that there is no time bar for bringing a financial remedy application against a former spouse. Therefore, if a divorce is completed through the courts but there is no clean break regarding finances, subject to the circumstances of an individual case, a party could bring a claim against their former spouse even a significant period of time after the divorce.
A recent report has found that two thirds of divorcing couples did not enter into any form of final financial consent order and had no clean break. The granting of the Decree Absolute does not finalise or dismiss any financial claims that spouses have against each other. A clean break is only achieved by the granting of a clean break order through the court, either by consent or during financial remedy proceedings. We therefore strongly advise that you take advice and get a clean break where possible so that you have peace of mind for the future.
We will be happy to advise on your individual situation – please contact Gill Wright or Madeleine Harrington in the family team.