To view the history of this case on Marilyn Stowe’s Family and Divorce Blog, go to: https://www.stowefamilylaw.co.uk/blog/2016/06/10/wyatt-v-vince-do-the-costs-rules-need-changing/
Today’s Supreme Court’s judgement reinstating a millionaire’s ex-wife financial support 18 years after the divorce provides a salutatory lesson that if you want a clean break with no comebacks, you need to act prudently at the time of the divorce. Or it could come back to bite you many years down the line when both of you have moved on and even had different partners and more children says Marilyn Stowe, senior partner with Stowe Family Law.
The Supreme Court have unanimously allowed the appeal and directed that Ms Wyatt’s application should proceed in the Family Division of the High Court.
Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince had married in 1981 and separated at a disputed point a few years later, with the divorce being finalised in 1992. While in the relationship the couple had no assets, however three years after the divorce Mr Vince founded Ecotricity, which is now a multi-million pound business and one of the country’s leading energy companies. He remarried and now has another son. Ms Wyatt also started a new relationship in 1995 in and has had two more children, but didn’t launch her claim until 2010, saying that she hadn’t been able to do so earlier.
“The Supreme Court has said that the case has merit, and that Ms Wyatt’s application is legally recognisable and is not an abuse of the process,” she says. “They also focused on the fact she brought up the children alone without support from the husband, and the judges said that they needed to take account of the ‘contribution 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’.
“The Court always considers the case assets at the date of the hearing, not the date of divorce or separation. There is an argument to ring fence most of the assets being made post separation, but nevertheless she still has her reasonable needs to be met. Quite obviously she is not going to walk away with half or anything approaching half but given her own contribution to raising the children during the marriage and afterwards she is entitled to recognition.
“It sends a clear message that an individual who delays their application for financial support potentially puts their whole future at risk, and in this case, the 18 year delay since the divorce has led the courts to conclude that this is no bar to the case going forward. It demonstrates that the wealthier partner mustn’t close their eyes to the danger of a relationship long finished where they’d both moved on to a new phase in their lives and started relationships with new partners which have resulted in additional children.
“The issue of post separation accrual, in other words, wealth accumulated after a couple splits, has become increasingly important to the courts, and in this case the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that Ms Wyatt has an entitlement on her ex-husband’s assets.
“There was another interesting case recently, B v B, in which a judge ordered that a wife be allocated 40% of her ex-husband’s shares as lump sum payments after the shares had matured, even though the husband had purchased them via his employer after the separation. In this case, the judge applied the concept of fairness, saying that it was about a ‘broad recognition by the court, after considering all the factors, of the value of the claimant’s (in this case the wife’s) role in the whole marital partnership’.
“This case has been through all the stages of the British Justice system. The wife’s claim was initially successful, and her husband’s application to have the claim struck out was rejected and he was ordered to pay his former wife a £125,000 ‘fighting fund’ to help her pursue her claim. But this was overturned in the Court of Appeal. At the time, Lord Justice Thorpe said that Mr Vince was ‘not her insurer against life’s eventualities’ but now the Supreme Court has overturned that judgement . This is definitely a judgement that will be referenced in the future in other cases where an individual becomes rich in the years after they divorce.”
Stowe Family Law is the UK’s largest, specialist family law firm with offices across the UK, including Grays Inn, central London, Leeds, Harrogate, Wetherby, Hale, Wilmslow and St Albans.
For more information on Stowe Family Law go to: https://www.stowefamilylaw.co.uk/