A maintenance claim against the founder of green energy supplier Ecotricity is to be heard by the Supreme Court later this year.
In Vince v Wyatt, Kathleen Wyatt had made a financial remedy (maintenance) claim against former husband Dale Vince in 2011, 19 years after the pair divorced and three years before Mr Vince, by then living in Stroud, Gloucestershire, founded Ecotricity. It is now thought to be worth at least £90 million.
Mr Vince unsuccessfully applied to the High Court have his wife’s claim struck out, under the Family Procedure Rules. He was also ordered to pay his former wife £125,000 to help pay her legal costs while she pursued her claims against him. Ms Wyatt’s solicitors were operating under a Sears Tooth agreement.
But the green energy pioneer had more luck at the Court of Appeal, where Lord Justices Thorpe, Jackson and Tomlinson ruled unanimously in his favour. Lord Justice Jackson said: “It must be an abuse of the court’s process to bring such proceedings.”
His now retired colleague Lord Justice Thorpe said the case was “extraordinary”, adding:
“The facts of this case are extreme. Impecuniosity has been the experience of all of the wife’s adult life. Both the men with whom she has entered into family life were seemingly equally impecunious. Her husband was the most improbable candidate for affluence. The wife no doubt can appeal to his sense of charity but in my judgment he is not to be compelled to boost the wife’s income by the exercise of the jurisdiction under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. He is not her insurer against life’s eventualities.”
The Court of Appeal also ruled that Mr Vince should not have been ordered to fund his wife’s legal costs.
The wife’s appeal against this ruling will be heard by the Supreme Court later this year, most likely in December. The points raised in the appeal include whether or not a financial remedy claim can be struck out without a full court hearing and the legal status of money paid to fund the other party’s legal costs.