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Nailing down agreements on divorce

17 Apr 2015

A Supreme Court ruling will allow a former wife to make a claim for a share of the fortune amassed by her husband 30 years after they parted, as no binding consent order was made when they divorced.

Kathleen Wyatt has been granted permission to lodge a belated claim against her multi-millionaire ex-husband, Dale Vince, who made his fortune through a green energy company founded in the 1990s, which is said to be worth £57m.

Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince married in 1981. They had a son, and Mr Vince also treated Ms Wyatt’s daughter from a previous relationship as a child of the family. They separated in 1984. For around 8 years after that, Mr Vince pursued a new-age travelling lifestyle. Ms Wyatt brought up the children in straitened circumstances, and Mr Vince was not in a position to make any substantial financial contribution for them. The couple divorced in 1992. From the late 1990s Mr Vince’s green energy business took off and he became a multi-millionaire. In 2001, the couple’s son went to live with Mr Vince. Ms Wyatt’s financial circumstances continued to be, and remain, very modest.

There is no time limit in the UK within which a spouse must seek an order for financial provision following a divorce and in 2011 Ms Wyatt made an application to Court for a lump sum from Mr Vince. Her application was dismissed by the Court of Appeal but she appealed to the Supreme Court which has allowed the case to proceed.

When the case is heard, it will be up to the trial judge as to whether any financial order is made. Lord Wilson, who gave the leading judgment in the Supreme Court, said Ms Wyatt faces formidable difficulties in seeking to establish that a financial order should be made in her favour, including the short duration of the marriage and the long delay since then. It is not clear whether she will be able to sustain her claim on the basis of need generated by her relationship with Mr Vince, however the Court is obliged to have regard to the contributions which each of the parties has made to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family. Ms Wyatt will no doubt rely on her much greater contribution to the upbringing of the couple’s children over many years, a factor which may justify a financial order for a comparatively modest sum.

Nicola Matthews, Partner & Family law expert at Hay & Kilner commented:  “It is certainly unusual to hear of a claim being made after all this time, but if you haven’t formalised the financial side of your divorce by obtaining a consent order, the opportunity remains open”.

A consent order confirms what has been agreed and can include details on how assets will be divided, including cash, property, pension funds and other investments, and can also include arrangements for maintenance payments, including child maintenance. Both parties have to agree and sign the draft consent order and a judge will consider the terms to see if they appear fair and reasonable, and if so will approve the agreement to make it legally binding.

Nicola Matthews added:  “Going through the process of obtaining a consent order should mean that both parties come out with a fair settlement and there will be no surprises some years down the line.” 

If you have divorced but have not obtained a consent order, you should take specialist legal advice about your position.

For further information or advice, please contact Nicola Matthews.

Call: 0191 232 8345

Email: Nicola.Matthews@hay-kilner.co.uk