Vince v Wyatt - The importance of financial orders upon divorce

If ever a case was to highlight the importance of ensuring all financial matters are finalised at the time of divorce by way of court order, this is it.

Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt separated in 1984 after just 3 years of marriage.  Mr Vince left to live a new-age travelling lifestyle whilst Ms Wyatt remained caring for the parties’ son and her daughter from a previous relationship. The parties divorced 8 years later in 1992. However, the financial matters were not resolved by way of court order, presumably because there was very little to divide.

Mr Vince had set up a green energy business which became very successful in the late 90s and he is now a multi-millionaire. Ms Wyatt however remains of limited means.

In 2011, Ms Wyatt made an application to the Court in the divorce proceedings for financial provision by way of a lump sum and also asked for an order that Mr Vince pay her legal costs. Mr Vince, in response, cross applied asking for Ms Wyatt’s application to be struck out i.e. dismissed. In 2012, the Court dismissed Mr Vince’s application and ordered Mr Vince to pay Ms Wyatt’s solicitors interim payments for her legal costs and for her application to proceed.

Mr Vince appealed the above decision and the Court of Appeal agreed with him and ordered that Ms Wyatt’s application be struck out (stopped) and that Ms Wyatt should repay part of the money Mr Vince had paid for her legal costs.

Ms Wyatt appealed to the Supreme Court.  On the 11th March 2015, the Supreme Court has allowed Ms Wyatt’s appeal.  This means that Ms Wyatt’s claim for a lump sum of money from Mr Vince, some 31 years after separation, is allowed to proceed in the Family Division of the High Court.

The Court ruled this because there was no financial order at the time of divorce and in family law, there is no time limit for making financial orders. Ms Wyatt is entitled to make the claim.

Ms Wyatt has sought a lump sum of £1.9m. The above ruling does not mean that she will be successful in obtaining a lump sum of £1.9m or at all but the case will proceed.  In explaining the Judgement of the Supreme Court, Lord Wilson has commented that the amount Ms Wyatt is seeking is ill-advised and she will have formidable difficulties in achieving the sum of £1.9m. However, he did comment that she may receive a comparatively more modest sum.

Either way, this case shows just how crucial it is for divorcing couples to ensure that all financial matters are finalised and dealt with by way of a Court Order at the time of divorce. Failure to do so could result in claims being made in the future against wealth acquired after the divorce.

Hughes Paddison has an experienced family team dealing with all aspects of financial matters arising from divorce. Should you require any advice, you can contact the family team for advice.