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No time limit on divorce cash claims

LAW firm Ward Hadaway is warning that there are no time limits when it comes to financial claims in divorce cases following an important court ruling.

Specialist divorce solicitors from the firm say that the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of green energy entrepreneur Dale Vince and his former wife Kathleen Wyatt demonstrates that divorces with unresolved financial issues can still be heard many years after the initial break-up.

And they say that this could have a bearing not only on current divorces but also on cases which couples may have assumed had been concluded some time ago.

In the Supreme Court case, Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince married in 1981. They had a son and Mr Vince also treated Ms Wyatt’s daughter from a previous relationship as a child of the family.

The couple separated in 1984 and for the next eight years, Mr Vince pursued a new age travelling lifestyle. Ms Wyatt brought up the children.

The couple divorced in 1992 but did not clearly resolve financial issues between them at the time. Mr Vince went on to establish a green energy company – Ecotricity – and is now reported to be worth in the region of £107m.

In 2011, Ms Wyatt made an application within the divorce proceedings for a lump sum to be paid to her by Mr Vince, who opposed the application, arguing that it had no reasonable grounds as it was so long after their divorce.

The Supreme Court has now ruled that Ms Wyatt’s case should be allowed to proceed, with Mr Vince paying her legal costs.

Jonathan Flower

Jonathan Flower

Jonathan Flower, Partner and Head of the Family Law team at Ward Hadaway, said: “This is a landmark ruling because it re-confirms, despite speculation to the contrary, that there is effectively no time limit on partners in a divorce pursuing a financial claim against their former spouse if they have not sorted out those issues at the time of the divorce.

“Whilst Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt did get divorced in 1992, the fact that any financial issues were not resolved as part of that divorce left the door open for Ms Wyatt to pursue a financial claim.

“Couples who separate or divorce without securing a ‘clean break’ Court Order in relation to their financial claims against each other leave themselves open to such claims, even at a substantially later date.

“These claims may seem unlikely at the time of divorce, but, as with Mr Vince’s, a person’s financial position might one day be poles apart from that during the marriage. That, and the passage of time, is no bar to claims, as is the case here.

“Whilst it is important to stress that no final ruling has been made on whether Ms Wyatt’s claim will result in her receiving a lump sum from Mr Vince, the fact that she is able to pursue that claim more than 20 years after the divorce is something which should make divorcing couples and those who are already divorced sit up and take notice.”

Jonathan said that the ruling made it vital that couples going through a divorce ensure that all issues are sorted out at the time.

He explained: “It is always best practice for couples – and something we strongly advise – to obtain a Court Order dealing with financial claims as part of the divorce settlement and this ruling reinforces just how important that is.

“The last thing someone who has been through a divorce wants is to revisit the situation, especially in a case like this which could result in financial as well as emotional consequences.”

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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