Dale Vince and Kathleen Wyatt married in 1981, separated in 1984 and divorced in 1992. At the time of the divorce, neither of them had much money, and it appears that no finacial order was made then.
Mr Vince went on to found his own extremely successful Green Energy business and became a multi-millionaire, his company being estimated to be worth £57M.
In 2011, Ms Wyatt issued an application for a financial settlement. As there was no evidence that there had been any financial order made in the divorce proceedings, and as she had not remarried since her divorce, she was entitled to make a claim despite the fact that it was over 25 years since she and Mr Vince had separated, and over 20 since they divorced.
Ms Wyatt was not successful in her initial claim for almost £2M, but the court deciding whether she could pursue her claim at all commented that she might well have reasonable prospects of “comparatively modest success” defining this as “perhaps of an order which would enable her, […] to purchase a somewhat more comfortable, and mortgage-free, home for herself and her remaining dependant”.
It has now been reported that Mr Vance and Ms Wyatt have agreed, and a court has approved, an order which gives her £300,000 to allow her to buy a house.
Mr Justice Cobb, the High Court Judge who approved the agreement, stated that he was "perfectly satisfied " that the agreement "reasonable", and that Ms Wyatt was "entitled to receive a modest capital award" He went on to say "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".
The Judge was right to say that the circumstances of this case were unusual. Very few of us are multi-millionaires, and it is unusual for a claim to be made so long after a couple divorce.
However, the case is a clear warning to couples getting divorced not to make assumptions about their financial relationships.
FDC Law’s head of Family Law says “Many couples come to informal agreements, and often assume that once the Decree Absolute has been made, and they are divorced, any financial claims end as well, but that is not the case. And because a court has to look at the financial situation as it is at the time an application is made, a delay can means that a spouse who has been careful with their money since the split, or who has had an inheritance or a pay rise, may find that this counts against them when an application is finally made” She adds, “if there is no order made when you divorce, you also run the risk that your ex-spouse might be able to claim against your estate if you die before they do”
If you are on good terms when you split up, you can agree on financial matters and your agreement can then be drawn up as an order (known as a ‘Consent Order’, because you have both consented to the terms) for a Judge to approve. Once made, the order is legally binding. Getting an order of this kind is relatively inexpensive, and certainly a lot less costly than having to go through the courts at a later stage!
If you can’t agree, then there are various options to try to help you negotiate a financial agreement, including Collaborative Family Law, Mediation, and negotiations through solicitors. If those are unsuccessful, then either person can apply to the court for a financial settlement and the Judge can, ultimately, decide how the financial assets will be divided.
Marjorie explains “We always recommend that, if you are getting divorced, you should aim to agree about how financial issues will be dealt with, and that any agreement should be formally recorded in a Court Order, or, if you can’t agree, that you take steps to get a financial settlement, even if it means going to court. This is true even if there are few, or no assets at the time you split up, as it ensures that your ex won’t be able to claim a share of your future assets”
At FDC Law we will always try to support you in reaching an agreement with your spouse, to minimise costs and stress. However, if that is not possible, we will ensure that you are aware of your options to resolve matters and to protect yourself, and ensure that you do receive a settlement which is fair.
If you are separating, or if you are divorced but don’t have a financial order, contact Marjorie Taylor
or Marion Fisher
for further advice.