23 years not too late
When couples get divorced they often want closure from the marriage and to move on to a fresh start. After years of being divorced you may have moved on with your life, left your ex-spouse in the past and made a financial success of your new business. But what if your ex-spouse hasn’t been quite so successful? What if your ex-spouse decides to claim financial relief from you but can’t afford the legal costs to take you to court, do you have to pay?
That is the situation Mr Vince found himself in recently.
Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt married in 1981. They had one child and subsequently separated in 1984. They did not divorce until 1992. During the marriage the couple had very little money. Mr Vince then became very financially successful, worth around £107 million, as a result of establishing his own company. Ms Wyatt’s financial position has not improved.
In 2011 Ms Wyatt issued proceedings against Mr Vince claiming £2 million and her legal costs. The High Court in 2012 ruled that Mr Vince should pay Ms Wyatt’s legal costs and dismissed Mr Vince’s application to have Ms Wyatt’s case thrown out due to the claim being brought too late.
Mr Vince appealed to the Court of Appeal. The High Court’s decision was reversed, and Mrs Wyatt’s application was dismissed, with no consideration of its merits. She was ordered to repay the legal costs she had received from Mr Vince.
Ms Wyatt appealed to the Supreme Court which reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision, agreed that Ms Wyatt’s financial claim against Mr Vince should proceed and he should pay her legal costs for pursuing the claim.
Lord Wilson said in his judgment that Ms Wyatt’s application faces formidable difficulties because the marital cohabitation was short, they had a very low standard of living and Ms Wyatt had not contributed to Mr Vince’s wealth. However, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 imposes a duty on the court to fully consider all of the circumstances of the case.
The Supreme Court also held that the Court of Appeal was wrong to throw out Ms Wyatt’s case because the family court cannot make a summary judgement when there is a legal basis of the claim.
The Supreme Court has allowed Ms Wyatt the opportunity to bring her claim. The case will now go back to the High Court who will have the job of determining what Ms Wyatt should be awarded.
A positive to come from this decision is ex-spouses will not be barred from justice, simply due to passage of time. However, it is a stark warning to divorcing couples to seek legal advice and ensure that they are protected in the future, by concluding financial claims when they are divorced.
We await with interest the outcome of Ms Wyatt’s application, and what the court will think is a fair outcome after all of these years. Will the publicity of this case make way for more ex-spouses bringing financial claims against their former spouses? We will have to wait and see.
You can also find out more information on the family pages of our website on all of these options. The family team at Whitehead Monckton have a wealth of experience providing guidance and advice in all areas relating to separation or divorce. If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this article, please contact a member of the Family team.