Ex Wife Can Bring Claim 20 Years After Divorce

09 April 2015

Clare Curran, Solicitor, considers "Can an Ex Wife Really Make a Financial Claim against her Millionaire Former Husband 30 years after separation?"

The Recent Case of Wyatt and Vince

The above case recently hit the headlines for its seemingly exceptional outcome whereby Kathleen Wyatt was granted permission by the Supreme Court to continue with her application for a financial order against her former husband Dale Vince, despite the fact that they have been separated for some 30 years and divorced for over 20 years.

The background to the case is this.Mr Wyatt and Mr Dale married in 1981 shortly after meeting at university.They had one child together.Ms Wyatt also had a child from a former relationship, who was treated as a child of the family.During their marriage, the parties had limited resources and survived on state benefits.The marriage was short and the parties separated in 1983.Both parties moved on and met new partners.Ms Dale went on to have 2 more children.The divorce was finalised in 1992.

A number of years after the parties divorced, Mr Dale started a green energy business which became hugely successful and was valued to be worth around £57 million when the case came before the Court.By contrast, Ms Wyatt continued to struggle financially and was of limited means.

Crucially, when the parties divorced in 1992, they did not implement any agreement regarding their finances and no financial application was made to the court.The detriment of not taking all the steps they could to sever their financial ties formally is demonstrated by the fact that Ms Wyatt issued her application so long after the marriage breakdown.

In 2011 Ms Wyatt issued proceedings against Mr Dale seeking a £1.9 million lump sum.Mr Dale applied to strike out the application on the basis that she had no reasonable prospect of success, given the short duration of the marriage, the length of time the parties have been separated and the fact that his fortune was acquired after they divorced.

At first instance, the District Judge dismissed Mr Dale’s application to strike the case out, which he then appealed.The Court of Appeal overturned the first court’s decision, however Ms Wyatt then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.The Supreme Court has now ruled in her favour by allowing the appeal, meaning Ms Wyatt can return to the High Court to proceed with her original application seeking a lump sum.

It is important to note that the Supreme Court has not ultimately determined whether Ms Wyatt’s application will be successful.That remains to be seen when the case is heard in full in the High Court which will determine in due course whether she will receive the £1.9 million she is seeking, or a lesser amount, or indeed anything at all.The fact that she is bringing the claim after such a considerable delay, that the marriage was so brief and that the husband’s assets were acquired long after the parties separated will present significant challenges for her to overcome.However, in her favour, the Supreme Court did consider that she had made a significant contribution to the welfare of the family by looking after the parties’ children and that such a contribution should not be confined to any particular time period, such as during the marriage only.On this basis, the Supreme Court concluded that a financial order for a modest lump sum for Ms Wyatt to re-house herself may possibly be justified.

The case is important in that the Supreme Court chose not to set a limitation date on when a financial application must be made between the parties to a divorce, however, the case is highly fact specific, not least because of the 30 year separation period, but also because of the large amount of money amassed by Mr Dale since their separation.Notwithstanding this, the case highlights the importance of parties resolving their financial issues before or at the same time as their divorce, as a failure to do so can leave open the potential for future claims.

Here at Worthingtons solicitors, we have specialist family lawyers who will advise you how best to resolve your matrimonial finances following a marriage breakdown, so that you can do everything you can to avoid this level of uncertainty hanging over your financial future.

If you require any advice or assistance in respect of any issue arising from a relationship breakdown, please email clare@worthingtonslaw.co.uk or telephone 028 91811538 to discuss the matter in confidence.

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