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Supreme court ruling to shake up divorce cases

The Supreme Court has just handed down Judgment in the highly publicised case of the former new age traveller and now green energy millionaire Dale Vince.

The facts are extreme but have relevance to many couples and the judgment has the potential to affect a wide range of divorce cases, including those from many years ago.

What happened in the 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 eight years following, Mr Vince pursued a new age travelling lifestyle. Ms Wyatt brought up the children.

The couple divorced in 1992 and it seems did nothing to resolve financial issues between them at the time.

Mr Vince went on to establish a green energy company and is now reported to be worth in the region of £107million as owner of Ecotricity.

Ms Wyatt’s financial circumstances were and remain very modest and in 2011 she made an application within the divorce proceedings for a lump sum to be paid to her by Mr Vince.

This claim has progressed through the Court system and resulted in the Judgment from the Supreme Court.

What were the arguments in the case?
Mr Vince argued that Ms Wyatt’s claim for a lump sum should be struck out on the basis that there was no reasonable ground for it and / or it was an abuse of process.

The claim was being brought many years post-separation and divorce and Mr Vince had built up his fortune during that time, without contribution by Ms Wyatt.

The Court of Appeal agreed with Mr Vince, and threw out the claim. Ms Wyatt appealed.

What did the Supreme Court say?
There had been a great deal of speculation as to whether the Supreme Court would close the door or set a time limit on such claims.

Instead, the Supreme Court has unanimously allowed Ms Wyatt’s claim to proceed, confirming there is no time bar on the Court’s ability to consider such claims, even many years post-divorce.

Another key factor is that Mr Vince was required to fund the legal costs of Ms Wyatt’s claim against him and this was upheld by the Supreme Court.

What happens now?
Whether Ms Wyatt is successful in securing a lump sum is another matter, but the Court have opened the way for this and suggested that her care of the children in difficult financial circumstances might justify at least a modest financial award.

What does this mean for divorce cases?
This case has relevance to many couples who separate and divorce without securing a “clean break” Court Order in relation to their financial claims against each other, which then remain open.

The Supreme Court decision reinforces the huge powers of the Family Court. It reminds us why separating and divorcing couples must ensure they obtain a Court Order dealing with financial issues on divorce, if they are to protect themselves against claims being made many years after the event.

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.

How can I find out more?
For further details on this issue and how it could affect you, please contact one of our specialist divorce solicitors.

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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