The case of Vince v Wyatt highlights the importance of ensuring that financial arrangements are incorporated into a Court Order when getting divorced.
Kath Wyatt won a settlement against her ex-husband 27 years after they had separated and 18 years after they got divorced.
Kath Wyatt and her ex-husband Dale Vince started living together and were married in 1981, when they were both in their early 20s. The couple had a son together (Dane) and Kath also had a daughter (Emily) from a previous relationship, who was treated as a child of their family. The couple separated in 1984 and were divorced in 1992.
During the period the couple that were together they had very little money and were mainly dependent on social security benefits. This remained the position for Kath after their separation. She brought up the two children of the family, as well as her two younger children (Robin and Jessie) by a different relationship, in difficult financial circumstances.
For most of the period Emily and Dane were growing up Dale was not in a financial position to provide more than minimal financial support for his ex-wife and children.
For some years after the separation Dale had lived the life of a new -age traveller. However, in the late 1990s, his long-standing interest in green energy, and his innate scientific ingenuity, led him to develop the commercial supply of wind power.
His company, Ecotricity Group Limited, developed from very small experimental beginnings at the Glastonbury Festival into a multi -million pound business, providing green energy to homes and businesses in the UK from its fleet of wind turbines. His son, Dane went to live and work with him when he was 18.
By the time of the appeal in the Supreme Court, Dale’s company was worth at least £57 million. He was by then 53 years old.
At this time, Kath (now 55) was in poor health, dependent on part-time earnings topped up by state benefits. She was living with three of her four adult children and her four-year-old granddaughter (Emily’s child) also lived with the family at weekends.
They were living in a 3/4 bedroom house in Monmouth, which she had purchased with a mortgage from the local authority under the Right to Buy scheme. The house was damp and in a poor state of repair. In contrast, Dale was living with his second wife and their child in a Georgian hill fort in Gloucestershire.
Kath issued a financial application against her former husband in May 2011, seeking a lump sum and an order for her legal costs to be paid by him. She sought a total of £1.9 million, to cover the cost of a better home (£550,000) plus a fund to provide her with spousal maintenance for life.
Dale argued that she should receive nothing. Because of the long delay that had elapsed since the couple’s divorce, none of the divorce documents were in existence apart from the decree absolute.
Consequently, it was not possible to establish how or if the financial aspects of the divorce had ever been dealt with and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it was assumed that there had been no formal dismissal of Kath’s financial claims.
After significant discussions and appeals, settlement terms were agreed between the parties in May 2016.
The terms were that Dale would pay his former wife a lump sum of £300,000 in full and final settlement of her financial claims and she would retain the sums that had been paid by her former husband in respect of her legal costs (approximately £325,000).
The significance of this decision for those experiencing separation and divorce:
The decision of the Supreme Court in this case, makes it clear that there is no time limit for seeking orders for financial provision after a divorce.
It underlines the importance of obtaining an order dealing with financial claims in each and every divorce case, even if there is no disagreement and/or no substantial assets, in which case future financial claims can simply be dismissed.
Unfortunately, couples going through divorce without using lawyers are unlikely to realise that they need to do this.
If no order is made dealing with the financial aspects of a divorce then the possibility of financial claims being made in future remains open in a situation where one former spouse does very well in life and the other does not, unless the economically weaker spouse has remarried in the meantime.
This blog post is by Maeve O’Higgins, a partner in the Family Law Department of Burlingtons Solicitors, London . Contact telephone number (020) 7529 5420,
Email [email protected], For more information, visit Burlingtons main website: www.burlingtonslegal.com