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Closing the Door on Post Divorce Claims

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Closing the Door on Post Divorce Claims

‘Closing the Door on Post Divorce Claims’

The importance of a final financial order

Glastonbury Festival is taking place this week, and, for Jonathan Whettingsteel, it is always a reminder of the case of Dale Vince, Wyatt & Vince [2015]. Mr Vince is the owner of green energy company, ‘Ecotricity’, which started with wind-powered mobile phone charging points at Glastonbury Festival and became a company valued at over £57 million. In this article Jonathan explains.

The divorce of Dale Vince and his ex-wife Kathleen Wyatt became a media sensation. Why? Ms Wyatt received a settlement almost 20 years after the couple separated! The case now serves as a stark warning of the importance of having a financial settlement in place following divorce proceedings.

The parties met in 1981 and married in December of that year. Ms Wyatt had a daughter from a previous relationship, who was treated and viewed as a child of the marriage, and couple had a child together in 1983.

Three years after their marriage the parties separated and Mr Vince moved out of the matrimonial home. The parties had no money or assets when separating, having lived as travellers, and in 1992 Ms Wyatt issued divorce proceedings with Decree Absolute being pronounced on 26th October of that year.

By 1997, Ms Wyatt had two more children with a new partner, had been either unemployed or working low paid jobs, but Mr Vince’s company Ecotricity, (set up after separation) was generating an income from a wind turbine.

In 2011, 27 years after the parties separated and 19 years after the divorce was finalised, Ms Wyatt issued a financial application seeking a £1.9 million settlement. In response, Mr Vince issued a cross application, seeking Ms Wyatt’s financial application be struck out as an abuse of process and it was successful in the first instance.

However, when Ms Wyatt appealed and the matter went before the Supreme Court, they unanimously agreed to overturn this decision. The Supreme Court held there was no limit within which any financial application should be made, and The Court should consider the Section 25 Matrimonial Causes Act criteria when deciding any financial claim.

Following a Financial Dispute Resolution which was unsuccessful in concluding matters, the parties were able to reach a financial agreement. Mr Vince paid Ms Wyatt a lump sum of £300,000, £200,000 towards her legal costs for the Supreme Court and a further £125,000 towards her further legal costs.

Mr Justice Cobb said he was "perfectly satisfied” that it was "reasonable", and Ms Wyatt was "entitled to receive a modest capital award" following the breakdown of the marriage. "The lump sum payment agreed between the parties fairly represents, in my view, a realistic and balanced appraisal of the unusual circumstances of this case," he said.

Although the Supreme Court’s Judgement was given 7 years ago, this still stands and confirms that there is no time limit on financial applications being made.

Following the introduction of ‘no-fault divorce’ last April, a Financial Order is even more important. Court statistics published last week show a large increase in the number of new divorces and those being issued by unrepresented parties. 

It is important that parties enter into a financial order as part of divorce proceedings, otherwise there continues to be a risk that either party could make a financial claim any time in the future. The case of Wyatt and Vince shows that The Court will not automatically strike out an application, even one made almost two decades after the divorce has been concluded.

Even if you are issuing divorce proceedings without legal advice or assistance, you should consider obtaining advice on the division of the matrimonial assets and ensuring finality.  Contact our award-winning family law team who have experience in dealing with divorce and high value assets, including national and overseas properties and companies.