None of us can predict the future, but we can at least protect ourselves from it as far as possible at the time. The ruling in a landmark case has led to a woman receiving a settlement 20 years after her divorce, and after the husband’s business was established, showing the importance of fully settling financial claims at the time of divorce.
Around 25 years after they separated, Kathleen Wyatt, 55, first took legal action against Dale Vince, 53, founder of wind-power firm Ecotricity, in 2011. She had demanded a £1.9m payout but a High Court family judge awarded a “realistic” lump sum of £300,000.
In approving the terms of the settlement, High Court family judge Mr. Justice Cobb said he was “perfectly satisfied” that it was “reasonable”, and Ms Wyatt was “entitled to receive a modest capital award” following the breakdown of the marriage.
“The lump sum payment agreed between the parties fairly represents, in my view, a realistic and balanced appraisal of the unusual circumstances of this case”, he said.
The couple met as students in their early 20s, married in 1981 and lived a New Age traveller lifestyle. They separated in the mid-1980s and divorced in 1992 without seeking any form of financial remedy within the divorce proceedings.
In the mid-1990s, Mr Vince set up his company, Ecotricity, which is now worth an estimated £107m. In 2011, Ms Wyatt lodged a claim for "financial remedy".
The Supreme Court granted leave to proceed with the claim for financial remedy in March 2015, but Justice Lord Wilson said that the wife had been unwise to pitch her claim at £1.9m as an award approaching that size was “out of the question”.
Mr Vince, who had appealed against it on the basis his ex-wife had lodged the claim too late, said at the time that it was “mad” in his opinion and “could signal open season for people who had brief relationships a quarter of a century ago”.
Whilst this may seem unfair to many, it should serve as a sharp reminder to all that tying up those loose ends at the conclusion of divorce proceedings is a must. Achieving such a position need not cost a fortune if the division of matrimonial assets is simple and neither party has a greater need than the other. This would no doubt have been the position in the Vince and Wyatt case where the wealth had been built up by the husband post-separation.
It is important to ensure that you receive sound legal advice at the outset of your case to ensure that your financial claims and that of your spouse are properly explained to you. For further advice and to speak to a member of our Family Law team, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org