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Divorce in haste … and run the risk of a financial claim decades later.

In the last couple of years you may have heard about the woman who made a financial claim against her millionaire ex husband 25 years after they separated. The Supreme Court agreed that as a financial claim had not been dealt with or dismissed upon divorce, the wife was allowed to make a claim for almost £2 million against her ex husband despite the length of time elapsed. The parties eventually settled earlier on this year for £300,000. The reason I’m bringing this up now is that the details of the settlement reached were only released last week after an attempt at enforcing confidentiality’s by the ex-husband failed.

The background to the Wyatt v Vince case is as follows:- Kathleen Wyatt (55) and Dale Vince (53) met as students in their early 20s, married in 1981 and lived a New Age traveller lifestyle. They had a child together but then separated in 1984 with Ms Wyatt living on travellers’ sites in south west England doing hand to mouth jobs such as fruit picking. Mr Vince spent the 1980s travelling around in a peace convoy protesting against nuclear weapons and lived in Spain for a year. The couple divorced in 1992 but had so few assets that they did not make a financial settlement upon divorce and no court records remain from the time. In 995 Mr Vince – who now lives in Georgian hill fort near Stroud in Gloucestershire with his second wife – set up his company Ecotricity which is now worth at least £57million. Ms Wyatt, who is in poor health and relies on benefits, lives in a poorly repaired former council house in Monmouth, Wales.

In 2011, Ms Wyatt lodged a claim for financial remedy to buy a house as well as life-long maintenance. Mr Vince contested this on the grounds the claim was being issued too late and eventually in 2015 the Supreme Court gave the green light for the claim to proceed, however they did warn Ms Wyatt that her claim was pitched too high and she would never get £1.9 million. In fact, she ended up settling on £300,000 which is likely to have been around the same amount the Court would have indicated during the financial proceedings proper – a far cry from the almost £2m she was claiming. The majority of the settlement will no doubt end up going to fund Ms Wyatt’s legal fees.

There is no time limit to brining a financial claim in the family courts, unlike the civil courts which impose a six year cut-off date for new lawsuits. This means claims from former spouses can be brought in the family courts years or even decades down the line. However most family law practitioners do not expect this case to open the floodgates to a deluge of fresh claims from former spouses as this case was very unusual indeed. I have, in the past few years, had a few clients come to me to ask about starting financial claims against their ex several years after divorce – usually they cite Wyatt v Vince as the reason for their enquiries. Every time I have to sit them down and explain all the factors the Court will have to consider when deciding what the financial settlement should be. Most of the time the assets that are being sought as post separation assets which the Court would in all likelihood want to ring fence out of the settlement discussions

For me the Wyatt v Vince case serves to illustrate one piece of advice perfectly – when divorcing always ensure you have a sealed clean break Consent Order. Even if the parties have no assets to speak of, a clean break Consent Order would ensure that neither party could ever come back and make a claim against the other party’s assets. Even if couples are doing the divorce themselves, they would be well served to seek legal advice about obtaining a clean break Consent Order. After all, Wyatt v Vince tells us that divorce in haste … and run the risk of a financial claim decades later.

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