Even if you are divorced, did the Court deal with your financial claims?

The recent judgement in Wyatt v Vince (2015) UKSC 14 handed down by the Supreme Court on the 11th March 2015 will raise questions to many as to whether they have protected their assets.

The facts of the case were that the husband, Mr Vince and the wife, Ms Wyatt were married on 18th December 1981. They had a son, and Mr Vince also treated Ms Wyatt’s daughter from a previous relationship as a child of the family. They separated in 1984. The couple divorced and their decree absolute was granted on the 26th October 1992.Throughout the marriage the couple largely lived on state benefits, and had a meagre existence. After their separation, Mr Vince pursued a new-age travelling lifestyle. Ms Wyatt struggled for many years to raise the children, often with ill-health and often reliant on state benefits. She had little financial help from Mr Vince and this was largely due to the fact that financially he was not in a position to help although in later years he could have paid substantial maintenance but the most he gave her was £200 per month.

Ms Wyatt went on to have two more children. From the late 1990s, Mr Vince’s green energy business took off and he became a multi-millionaire and in fact in 2001, the couple’s son went to live with Mr Vince. Ms Wyatt’s financial circumstances continued to be, and remain very modest.

Ms Wyatt decided to make a financial claim against her former husband, Mr Vince in 2011, nearly 20 years after their divorce.  She was able to make such a claim as at no stage did the Court make a separate order dealing with or dismissing either party’s financial claims. Mr Vince applied for her application to be stuck out which the Court of Appeal granted.

However, now five Supreme Court Justices unanimously have overturned that decision, ruling that the wife’s claim was not an abuse of process and can now be pursued in the High Court.

Mrs Wyatt’s claim is yet to be determined, the Court’s decision means that her claim has a “nuisance factor” and will potentially cause a lot of stress and legal costs to Mr Vince and may result in Ms Wyatt receiving a reasonable lump sum of money. Indeed one of the  Justices’, Lord Wilson, commented, although not asked to, that although Ms Wyatt would face formidable difficulties in seeking to establish that a financial order should be made in her favour bearing in mind the short duration of their marriage and the long delay since, she had a real prospect of comparatively modest success. It is unlikely that a Judge in the lower Court will go against such an indication.  It is the opinion of some commentators that perhaps she may end up receiving a sufficient lump to purchase a mortgage free home.

The outcome may seem unfair however the reality of the situation was that Ms Wyatt struggled for many years to raise the children, often in ill health, and often reliant on statement benefits. As stated, she had little financial help from Mr Vince.  Mrs Wyatt is likely to bring a claim on the basis of relationship-generated need, or in other words, the fact that had she not been married to Mr Vince, and raising his children, she may have been in a better position and furthermore that her contributions to the marriage continued beyond their separation by raising the children. It is unlikely that she will receive half his assets and she has not asked for half but sufficient to make her comfortable.

The case highlights that in family law, there is no time bar limit to when one can make a financial application provided they have not remarried before making such an application.

It is advisable to ensure that there is in place a Court Order dismissing the other’s future claims even if the parties have divvied up what they had at the time of their divorce to ensure that the ex spouse does not make a claim in the future as fortunes can change by perhaps an inheritance, windfall or through hard work.

If you would like further information on this or any other legal matter please contact us on 0330 123 1229.