Don’t Delay What You Can Do Today: Financial Settlements on Divorce
Many may remember the news stories last year that a woman, Ms Wyatt, had been granted permission by the Supreme Court to pursue financial claims against her ex-husband, the multi-millionaire Dale Vince some two decades after they divorced. The initial decision of the Supreme Court had only confirmed her right to pursue an application against him years after the divorce, but now it has been revealed that she has been successful in her financial claim against him and has received a lump sum payment of £300,000, together with a contribution to her legal costs.
The couple separated in 1984, having married in 1981 and had one child together, although the divorce was not finalised until some years later. During the course of the marriage the couple had little money, and spent some time as New Age Travellers. However, since that time, and no doubt the reason for Ms Wyatt’s application to the Court, Mr Vince had established a successful green electricity company, Ecotricity, and had built up a considerable level of wealth.
Mr Vince, perhaps understandably, felt that Ms Wyatt should not be able to pursue any claim against him given the many years that had passed and sought for her application to the court to be dismissed. The Supreme Court refused to do so, confirming that the law did not specify that there was a time period in which to make a claim, and indicated that she would likely be entitled to some level of lump sum payment, even if not a considerable sum, to acknowledge her contributions to the marriage, including raising their child.
The reason why Ms Wyatt was able to pursue the claim was that while the divorce itself had been finalised, it was unclear whether or not they had obtained a separate court order dismissing their respective financial claims arising from the marriage. The court ultimately decided that it was unlikely that they had done so. This is not uncommon, as many divorcing couples decide there is no need to obtain such a court order, but the effect of this is that the claims that any one of a married couple has against the other (including claims against property, savings, pensions and income) remain open.
The only way to bring an end to someone’s claims is either to obtain a court order or if they remarry. This means that there is always a risk that one of the couple looks to the other for financial support years after the divorce, particularly if the latter’s financial circumstances have improved since that time.
This case should therefore stand as a stark warning to any divorcing couple about the importance of obtaining a court order that deal with and/or dismiss their financial claims at the time of their divorce, to provide security and peace of mind for the future. If anyone who has been divorced does not have such a court order, then unless they have remarried, they should seriously consider doing so however long it has been. This is particularly relevant for those who are setting up new businesses or planning new financial ventures so that they can avoid finding themselves in the same position as Mr Vince.
Our head of the Family Team, Richard Adams, is one of the only lawyers in Sussex accredited by Resolution, the national association of family lawyers, in cases involving complex financial matters for cases involving substantial assets or high income and regularly advises, along with the rest of our team, clients on how best to protect their assets on divorce.
Should you feel that this might apply to you or you are concerned about any issues that arise from this case, then please contact a member of the Family Department on 01903 229999 to speak to one of our specialist family lawyers in total confidence.
The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation.