The highly publicised financial claim made by the former wife of a green energy boss shows the need for legal reform, Resolution has claimed.
The organisation, which represents family lawyers, said Vince v Wyatt was “an illustration of the need for reform of the law around divorce finance”.
Last week, the Supreme Court announced that Kathleen Wyatt’s claim against Dale Vince was valid and should return to the family courts. The couple separated in 1984 following the birth of their son Dane, but they did not formally divorce for another eight years. At the time both had little money and lived a New Age traveller lifestyle. However Mr Vince later went on to found wind turbine power company Ecotricity which became highly successful and he is now a multimillionaire.
Ms Wyatt’s financial claim against her ex-husband met with initial success but was later thrown out by the Court of Appeal. Lord Justice Thorpe insisted that Mr Vince was not “her insurer against life’s eventualities”.
Ms Wyatt appealed to the Supreme Court where Lord Wilson surprised many by concluding that the Court of Appeal ruling had been in error. The courts did not have the power to reach an immediate decision on financial claims made by spouses, he declared. Instead the merits of each claim must be fully considered.
In a recently published Manifesto for Family Law, Resolution argued for greater certainty in the law surrounding financial provision after divorce.
“If Ms Wyatt had lost her appeal, Resolution was concerned that people without access to legal advice as a result of the legal aid cuts would have been at risk of having their applications struck out without proper consideration simply because of delay, along arbitrary lines.”
However, she added, it was also important to protect people who have acquired wealth from “potentially opportunistic claims” years after the end of a marriage.
There is a need for greater clarity, she insisted, clarity which would help divorcees to achieve financial independence more quickly.
“We are rightly proud of the broad discretion which the family courts have in England and Wales and the ability to tailor outcomes to families.”
However, judicial discretion – the ability to tailor rulings to the circumstances of each case – also fuelled uncertainty over the outcome and encouraged litigation, she declared.
Read the Resolution Manifesto for Family Law here.