Counting the cost of time

When Kathleen Wyatt took her case to the Supreme Court recently to fight for a slice of her ex-husband’s self-made fortune, twenty years after the divorce, it sparked a furious debate about the rights and wrongs of the case.

Sally Leaman is partner and head of family law at Gorvins Solicitors in Stockport. Sally Leaman is partner and head of family law at Gorvins Solicitors in Stockport.

Here, Sally Leaman takes a look at the facts of the matter and trends that make this all too likely a scenario in the future.

In this case millionaire Dale Vince was taken to court by his ex-wife who was seeking a capital sum, despite the fact that Mr Vince made his fortune many years after the couple divorced.

The couple married in 1981, when both were receiving state benefits. They had a son together and the wife had a daughter from a previous relationship. They separated in 1984 and their divorce was finalised in 1992. Both moved on to other partners who they had children with.

Mr Vince launched his green energy company in the 1990s which has a value of at least £57m.

The wife brought a claim for financial remedy against Mr Vince in May 2011, nearly 20 years after they initially divorced. Mr Vince argued that his ex-wife’s claim should have been struck out as it was made so long after the divorce.

In the recent judgment the Supreme Court said that Kathleen Wyatt’s claim was “legally recognisable” and was not an “abuse of process.” Mr Vince has since described the decision as “mad” and expressed his disappointment that his ex-wife’s claim can still be considered some thirty years after the relationship ended. Ms Wyatt argues he had failed to support the children financially causing her financial hardship.

Dale Vince Dale Vince

It is possible to pursue financial claims against an ex-spouse many years after a divorce and Mr Vince could have entered into a financial order at the time of divorce proceedings, to avoid his ex-wife subsequently pursuing a claim.

The trouble is once people get a divorce finalised it is easy to assume that the job is done. Actually, you need to get a separate order to protect current and future financial assets.

Frequently in this situation people will report they ‘agreed’ something at the time which they assume prevents their ex-spouse making any further claims. Unfortunately, those agreements have not been recorded in a court order and are simply not binding.

Another factor is that people don’t always get legal advice from a solicitor when they divorce and we have seen an increase in this in recent years.

Sometimes people take advantage of so-called DIY divorces, where they do everything online and don’t realise that that does not actually finalise the finances. Whilst a DIY divorce may appear to be a cheaper solution, for this reason they can turn out to be a far more expensive option in the long run.

In this case the High Court will now decide how much Kathleen Wyatt should get. The short duration of the marital cohabitation, the substantial delay in her pursuing a claim and the fact that Mr Vince’s wealth was not created until years after the marriage breakdown are all factors the Court could take into account to limit her claim.

It is likely to be another news story when that decision is made – unless the parties agree to settle the case in the interim. Given the costs to date are a staggering £500,000, which has all been paid by Mr Vince, that may be a possibility, although he seems intent on defending the claim.

Had the parties finalised a financial settlement with a court order, at the time of the divorce, the outcome could have been very different.

The clear message to take from this case is if you want to protect yourself from future claims it is vital to formalise a financial settlement properly when you get divorced, with a court order.

 

 

Sunrise Senior Living Mobberly

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