The judgment in Wyatt v Vince just goes to show the importance of dismissing financial claims on divorce – the so called ‘clean break’ order – however large or small those claims might be at the time of the divorce itself. In that case the wife, Ms Wyatt, came back after 20 years seeking the right to claim against her former husband’s new found wealth, much of which post dated their relatively short, and many years previous marriage. Now, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that Ms Wyatt can pursue a claim for financial relief, in a case that will be seen by many as further evidence to support the UK’s reputation as being the ‘divorce capital of the world’.
Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince married in 1981 and separated in 1984. They had one child, born in 1981, and had also treated Ms Wyatt’s child from an earlier relationship, born in 1979, as a child of the family. During the relationship the parties “chose the New Age or traveller creed and lifestyle” and had no assets of significance.
At “some stage” in the early 1990’s there were both divorce and Children Act proceedings in the County Court. The only surviving document from those proceedings was the decree absolute of divorce, made on 26th October 1992. Mr Vince claimed that his wife made an application for ancillary relief which was dismissed, but there was no evidence of this.
Ms Wyatt entered into a new relationship in 1995 and had two further children by her new partner. In 1995 Mr Vince began a wind power business which became very successful and grew into a company worth “many millions”. He remarried in 2006 and had a four year old son with his new wife.
The wife’s application
Ms Wyatt applied, on 19th May 2011, for financial remedies from her former husband. She sought an ‘A v A’ order for a costs allowance of £125,000 to finance her claim. Mr Vince applied to strike out of Ms Wyatt’s financial remedy application under Family Proceedings Rules (FPR 2010) rule 4.4(1). At first instance the strike out application was dismissed and the judge granted Ms Wyatt’s application for a costs allowance from her former husband. He appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal allowed the husband’s appeal, and proceeded to strike out Ms Wyatt’s claim. But it didn’t end there. Ms Wyatt appealed to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.
In a judgment handed down on 11/3/15 here, the Supreme Court granted the appeal and by doing so, has now permitted Ms Wyatt to now pursue her claims.
The Supreme Court decided that the case is “legally recognisable” in the context of the Family Proceedings Rules. The Judges stated that only in cases where the court has already determined the financial claims, or where the case is not legally recognised because the claimant has remarried will such a claim fail.
Ms Wyatt will now have the opportunity to pursue her financial claims. That is a world away from saying she will succeed in those claims – but nevertheless the decision highlights the importance of dealing with the financial aspects of divorce when you dissolve the marriage. If not, you run the risk of being open to an application by your former spouse many years down the line, for financial provision. That application is then dealt with and based upon the parties financial circumstances as the court finds them at the date it hears the case – i.e. current financial circumstances.
Wrong? That is not for us to say. Can it be avoided? Absolutely. You must deal with your financial claims on divorce, however small they may be at that time. A clean break order is the only way to be sure of a dismissal of future claims both during your lifetime, but also even beyond the grave.
“….but I have nothing to claim against”
You may think you have nothing worth your former spouse making a claim against – no doubt so did Mr. Vince. But now, many years later, when you have made your first million, look out – without a clean break you are susceptible to a claim for financial relief even though you thought your divorce was concluded so many years ago.
For advice on how to obtain a clean break for your spouse on divorce, speak to our specialist lawyers at Paradigm Family Law, James and Frank on 0845 6020422 or email us at [email protected] for a free initial consultation. Don’t delay, do it today.