Every now and then a family law case grabs the public's attention. But because most matrimonial disputes are settled in private, we rarely get to find out 'what happened next'.
The case of Wyatt and Vince caused a stir when it came before the Supreme Court in March 2015. The couple had married and had a child while pursuing a new age travelling lifestyle. The couple separated in 1984 and divorced in 1992. In 2011, 19 years later, Ms Wyatt applied to the Family Court for a lump sum and sought an order that Mr Vince paid her legal fees. In the intervening period, Mr Vince had become a multi-millionaire after his green energy business took off. He applied for Ms Wyatt's application to be struck out.
The Supreme Court backed Ms Wyatt and sent the case back to the High Court for her underlying application to be considered. One of the Supreme Court judges, Lord Wilson, gave a strong hint that the most she might expect would be 'a financial order for a comparatively modest sum' to take account of the fact that she had largely brought up their son single handed (although he had later moved to live with his father).
Prior to the Supreme Court hearing, the parties' open positions were apparently £2 million apart. Encouragingly, and despite the evident animosity between them, they were able to reach a negotiated settlement at a level far below Ms Wyatt’s previous expectations. It was agreed that Mr Vince would pay Ms Wyatt a lump sum of £300,000, together with payments towards her legal fees up to the Supreme Court hearing of £325,000. The lump sum award to Ms Wyatt represents approximately 0.05% of the value of Mr Vince’s energy business.
Unfortunately, it was only after the terms of this agreement had been reached that Mr Vince's solicitors sought to insist that the terms of the agreement should be kept private.
The matter came before Mr Justice Cobb on 20 May 2016. Having reviewed the law, he concluded that, as so much information was already in the public domain, there would be no detriment in the final outcome being publicised - and that there was even a public interest in doing so. In reaching his decision, he followed a trail established by other high profile litigants in the joined case of McCartney v Mills McCartney and Blunkett v Quinn.
But there may be a final sting in the tail for Ms Wyatt. Her solicitors confirmed that a part of her lump sum would have to be used to pay their outstanding costs. Mr Vince sought an order that the net amount that she eventually received from this lengthy and expensive litigation should be disclosed. The judge declined on the basis that the final amount was not yet known and that Mr Vince had provided no information about the level of his own legal costs. The strong suspicion, however, remains that Ms Wyatt secured an extremely expensive Pyrrhic victory.
Simon Blain, a partner at Penningtons Manches, said: "Wyatt and Vince is a useful reminder that every divorcing couple should enter into a binding financial settlement, even if their assets are modest. It may also be a reminder that only the very wealthy can afford to litigate on a point of principle."