In March of last year, a woman’s right to lodge a claim for financial provision more than 2 decades after her divorce was finalised was unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court. https://lawblacks.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/ex-on-the-reach/ . Lord Wilson verified Ms Wyatt’s claim as ‘legally recognisable’ and held it was not an ‘abuse of process’. However, the decision caused turbulence for her ex-husband, Mr Vince, who declared it was akin to “cashing in an old lottery ticket”.
The unusual background to the case is that Ms Wyatt met Mr Vince as students in their early 20s, married in 1981 and lived a new age traveller lifestyle together. The couple then went their separate ways in the mid 1980s and divorced in 1992. Neither party had any money to their name at the point of separation. Whilst Ms Wyatt struggled with low paid work and periods of unemployment, Mr Vince went on to make his millions as a green energy tycoon launching a company called Ecotricity – a business now worth at least £57 million. It was not until 2011 when Ms Wyatt made an application to Court for a Financial Remedy, 19 years after their divorce. The Court of Appeal threw out Ms Wyatt’s application initially, but she pressed ahead with her application all the way to the Supreme Court.
The country waited in suspense to see what amount Ms Wyatt would be awarded in her Financial Remedy application. However, the matter did not go as far as a final hearing and a settlement was reached by the parties on 24 March 2016. Mr Vince openly acknowledges this was only for the purpose of avoiding further costly litigation on the matter. As such, he agreed to pay the wife a lump sum of £300,000 in addition to the Husband’s earlier payment of £200,000 towards the costs of the Supreme Court Appeal and in addition to the award of £125,000 he made towards her costs in December 2015.
The court was “perfectly satisfied” that the terms of the settlement were reasonable and agreed “that the wife is entitled to receive a modest capital award following the breakdown of this marriage; the lump sum payment agreed between the parties fairly represents…a realistic and balanced appraisal of the unusual circumstances of the case, having particular regard to the factors set out in section 25(1) and (2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.” http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1973/18/section/25 The Court found that the “agreed payment corresponds with what Lord Wilson had described as the wife’s “real prospect of comparatively modest success” in her claim, falling…within the bracket of possible awards which he appears to have contemplated.”
Whilst this is obviously a substantial amount, it is not quite the £1.9m Ms Wyatt was originally seeking. Further, it is not certain exactly how much of this Ms Wyatt will actually see, as the sum was to include her legal costs which could be substantial. Ms Wyatt had not yet received her final costs bill from her solicitor and Mr Vince argued that he should be allowed to publish “the likely net benefit to the wife of the lump sum payment” i.e. the amount she will actually receive once her legal costs have been paid. However, the Court prohibited disclosure of such costs holding that it was “neither fair nor just” for just one party’s costs to be published.
Even though the publication of the figures was not allowed, Mr Vince has still voiced his concerns to the media as he felt that the whole application was a waste of money. He has called for the need for a statute of limitations in Financial Remedy applications. There is no time bar for making such applications, as this case illustrates; the reason being is that marriage is meant to be for life. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3634949/Victory-hippy-millionaire-s-unemployed-ex-wife-wins-500-000-share-fortune-money-decade-broke-up.html
A word of warning to divorcing spouses
The most crucial message this gives out to parties going through a divorce, is that they should always protect themselves from future claims against their ex-spouse by obtaining a Consent Order, whether or not they have many assets at the time. A Consent Order is a legal document that confirms a couple’s agreement about how they are going to divide up their assets, including money, property, savings and investments. Most importantly, it finalises all financial obligations arising from a marriage and the effect of the Order is that neither party will be able to pursue financial claims against the other in the future. We find that many people, particularly those who carry out their own divorce, think they have finalised both the divorce and financial arrangements once they receive their Decree Absolute (the final stage of divorce). Sadly, this is not the case as they also need a Consent Order to protect against future claims.