A man stand inside a marble circular maze

Time is a healer – unless you prosper

This month we saw the extraordinary facts of the case called Wyatt v Vince [2015] UKSC14 hit the headlines when Ms Wyatt succeeded in her appeal against her former husband.

Not strictly a case now revolving around financial support for children (although it features), but a timely reminder to take a cautionary approach when it comes to financial settlements.  The facts of the case are this:

–  Kathleen Wyatt (the Wife) and Dale Vince (the Husband) met and married in 1981. At the time, neither had any assets and they lived largely on state benefits.

– The Husband stated that he and the Wife separated in 1984. The Wife argued that the relationship did not finally end until some time later but they divorced in 1992 without a financial settlement.

– After the divorce the Husband began a wind turbine company, which swiftly became extremely profitable and an estimated value today of over £100million.

– In 2011 the Wife brought a claim against the Husband for financial support.  She values her claim at £1.9 million including recognition for raising their children with little support from the husband.

– When the case came before the Court of Appeal that court used a new court rule which came into force in 2011 to strike out the wife’s claim stating that there were no reasonable grounds for bringing it.  The Wife then appealed to the Supreme Court

– The Supreme Court has reversed the decision made in the Court of Appeal and has allowed the Wife to pursue her financial claims against the Husband saying that the court is under a duty to investigate and consider all the factors of the claim with the necessary evidence.

The Wife will therefore now be able to pursue her claim against the Husband.

The Supreme Court made clear that the Wife would face difficulties in her claim due to the short length of the marriage, the period of time since it broke down, the very low standard of living of the parties during the marriage and the fact that the husband did not accrue his wealth until long after the marriage breakdown. However, the court also made clear that the Wife’s claim did have a real prospect of success of a modest mortgage free home for example and the Husband will pay the costs of dealing with this matter so far.

Perhaps the real shame in this particular case is that the costs are reported to be in excess of £500,000, which surely could have been better applied to settling the claim.

It has never been clearer that it is extremely risky not to obtain court orders which finalise the financial settlement. Where couples do not do so they face the prospect of claims arising in the future, perhaps many years after the divorce.