Former wife's financial claim against husband after 27 years

This case is of vital importance to divorcing couples. It illustrates the need to ensure that divorce financial settlements are legally and formally finalised. Failure to do so leaves people vulnerable to future financial claims and the decision in Wyatt v Vince indicates that the passing of time of itself offers no protection.

The History of the Divorce

Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince married in 1981. Kathleen had a daughter from a previous marriage but neither of them brought any wealth or assets to the marriage. In fact they relied on state benefits to survive. In 1983 they had a son together but in 1984, after just two years of marriage, they separated. It wasn’t until eight years later in 1992 that the Divorce, instigated by the wife, was finalised but they never made a formal agreement about a divorce financial settlement. Understandably they had little wealth or assets to argue over and so both parties probably saw no need for an agreement. This is an oversight that may be costly for Dale Vince.

They both continued to live a frugal, new age traveler lifestyle until 1990. The husband then started a wind turbine company which was huge success, very profitable and was soon worth millions.

In 2011, 27 years after they separated, the wife made a claim for a divorce financial settlement. She valued her claim at £1.9 million.

Mr Vince was understandably aggrieved that his former wife could make such a claim and instructed his lawyers to try and have the claim dismissed at an early stage. Initially, the Court decided Ms Wyatt was entitled to make the claim but in the Court of Appeal, Mr Vince was successful in having her claim dismissed. The court’s view was that there were no reasonable grounds for bringing the claim. They based this view on summary information and did not review all the evidence and the facts of the case.  After all, Wyatt and Vince been separated for 27 years and the husband’s wealth was made long after they had separated and divorced.

The Appeal to the Supreme Court

The Wife then appealed to the Supreme Court where it was ruled that the courts did not have the power to reach an immediate early decision on financial claims made by spouses without all the evidence being reviewed and considered. The Court of Appeal decision was over ruled and the wife will now be able to pursue her claim. The Supreme Court has also indicated that she is likely to have some moderate success in court and have ordered that the husband will pay her an allowance to cover her legal fees whilst the case proceeds. This alone is likely to prove expensive for Mr Vince.

The dangers of not legally formalising divorce settlements

This case clearly illustrates the dangers of not formalising divorce settlements. Even when the divorce is amicable the process of formalising these arrangements, which may be perceived as an unnecessary cost at the time, is essential. No one knows what the future holds and not legally formalising a divorce settlement can jeopardize future finances, future business ventures and future relationships, as well as costing  a great deal more to resolve when historic information may no longer be available.

For more information about formalising a divorce settlement visit Divorce and Finances.

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