Ms Kathleen Wyatt has been successful in her bid to lodge a financial settlement application in pursuit of her now millionaire ex-husband Mr David Vince. The pair had lived a ‘new-age travelling lifestyle’ throughout their relationship which culminated in their separation in 1984 and eventual divorce in 1992.
Mr Vince’s business, Ecotricity, took off in 1995 and is seen as Britain’s leading green energy supplier with the former traveller now being estimated at a net worth of £107 million and having received an OBE. Contrarily Ms Wyatt continued to remain on a modest income raising the pair’s child, Dane, along with children from other relationships in straitened circumstances.
In 2011 Ms Wyatt made an application in the divorce proceedings for financial provisions in the form of a lump sum and she also applied for interim payments to fund her legal costs. In response Mr Vince cross applied for the substantive application to be struck out pursuant to Rule 4.4 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 (“FPR”) on the basis that it was an abuse of process and it had no prospects of success considering the lapse of time.
Whilst the Court of Appeal acquiesced to Mr Vince’s submissions the Supreme Court has overturned this, allowing Ms Wyatt’s appeal and directing that her application proceed in the Family Division of the High Court. The Court also ordered Mr Vince to make interim periodical payments in respect of legal costs directly to Ms Wyatt’s solicitors.
In cases for a financial settlement on divorce, the Court has a duty under s.25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 to determine the application having regard to all of the circumstances including factors specifically prescribed by that Act. Therefore there are only very limited circumstances in which a case would be struck out as having no reasonable prospects of success, one such circumstance being where there has already previously been a final determination of the proceedings. Even after a delay of 20 years post divorce an ex partner may make a claim for financial provision if those claims have not already been determined by the Court. Where financial claims on divorce are primarily focused on the parties’ needs this can mean that post separation wealth is fair game.
This case is a stark reminder to divorcing couples that if you are able to agree on the division of your assets without the Court’s assistance, it is essential that you still apply to the Court to have that agreement approved and placed into a Court Order. Only once approved by the Court will that agreement determine your financial claims and be held to be binding on you both in the future.
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