Kathleen Wyatt has recently received permission from the Supreme Court to seek financial provision from her ex-husband, Dale Vince.
So far, normal.
Except for the fact that the pair separated 30 years ago before officially divorcing 23 years ago.
So why wasn’t this sorted out following their divorce in 1992?
And what can divorcees do to protect themselves against these types of claims?
During the couple’s relationship, the pair lived a nomadic lifestyle, surviving on very little money. Following their separation, life continued in a similar manner for Ms Wyatt, who today lives in an ex-council house in Wales with her children.
However, things changed dramatically for Mr Vince when he founded Ecotricity in 1995, which is now one of the UK’s biggest green energy companies. Mr Vince’s new lifestyle mirrors his business success and he currently lives in a £3 million 18th-century castle with his new wife and their son.
At first glance, it seems obvious that any maintenance claim brought by Ms Wyatt so long after their divorce should fall flat. After all, the maths is plain and simple: Mr Vince’s success came three years after the couple divorced and therefore this surely means that Ms Wyatt’s ship has sailed and she has no right to any of her ex-husband’s earnings?
This logic was certainly used by Lord Justice Thorpe in the Court of Appeal, who stated that Mr Vince was not to be Ms Wyatt’s ‘insurer against life’s eventualities’. However, shockingly, when the matter reached the Supreme Court, Lord Wilson ruled that Ms Wyatt should be entitled to bring a claim against her ex-husband and stated that the matter should be heard by a judge in the Family Division of the High Court.
When the case does come before the High Court, Ms Wyatt will likely base her claim on her significant childcare contributions over the years. Mr Vince will rely on the ridiculously long delay in the claim being brought, as well as the fact that although the couple were officially married for 11 years, they actually only enjoyed marital cohabitation for two years.
Although Ms Wyatt’s claim may not be successful, the fact that she has received permission to bring it before a Judge is still extremely unsettling for divorcees, who should not have to live in fear that their divorces, which they presumed to be ‘done and dusted’, may rear their ugly heads in the form of a claim in the future.
If nothing more, the Supreme Court’s ruling comes as a huge warning to anyone whose marriage ends in divorce, and that warning is quite straightforward: it is imperative to get a final order so that all monetary claims are dealt with together with the divorce.
It is certainly understandable why many fall into the trap of thinking that a clean break is unnecessary; after all, when a couple have lived on an extremely low budget throughout their marriage, the cost of a court order is likely be viewed as an unnecessary expense.
However, it is vital for couples to realise that things can and do change – one party may win the lottery, a loved one may leave a large and unexpected inheritance, or one party may start a business that reaches a level of success they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams.
Today, separating spouses are privy to the ‘online quickie divorce’, a service that allows parties to get divorced for a fixed fee of as little as £100 plus VAT.
Whilst such services may appear appealing and are often very useful for those looking to keep their divorce costs to a minimum, it is imperative for couples to understand that such a service often does not deal with matrimonial finances and instead only take the couple to the decree absolute stage of their divorce.
In order for both spouses to move on with their independent lives after divorce, it is crucial that they draft, approve and sign a final financial order before submitting it to court for approval.
Whilst the cost of a lawyer drafting such an agreement may be a slight inconvenience, it will be miniscule compared to a claim that could be brought years later by an ex-spouse with a hefty sense of entitlement.
Nobody wants to be looking over their shoulder after divorce and the best insurance against having to do this is to tie things up at the point of divorce instead of leaving loose ends.
Katie McCann is head of family law and in-house counsel at Kuits Solicitors in Manchester City Centre. She has a special interest in resolving high value relationship breakdown disputes.