Ask most people what they hope to attain at the end of a divorce and the word ‘closure’ will invariably feature. Perhaps this is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Wyatt v Vince has caused such controversy.
The case involves an application by Mrs Wyatt for a financial order against her ex-husband, Mr Vince. Married in 1982, they separated in 1984, having had one child together (and Mrs Wyatt already having a daughter from a prior relationship). Their standard of living had not been high, living mainly on state benefits. After separating, Mr Vince lived in an old ambulance as a traveller, before founding what became a multi-million pound company, Ecotricity, in respect of which Mrs Wyatt played no contribution. Mrs Vince went on to have two more children with a new partner. They did not divorce until 1992, but did not finalise any financial claims they had against each other. Mrs Wyatt then made an application for a financial settlement in 2011.
Mr Vince successfully applied, via the Court of Appeal, to have her claim against him struck out. Overturning this decision, the Supreme Court found that the power to strike out an application only extends to where it discloses no reasonable (i.e. legally recognisable) grounds or where it amounts to an abuse of process and that neither applied here; Mrs Wyatt’s application was genuine and permitted under statute, which - in the absence of re-marriage – places no time limit upon the ability of an ex-spouse to seek financial relief.
The Supreme Court has therefore allowed Mrs Wyatt's claim to proceed, with Mr Vince being required to fund her costs in bringing her application. The court has indicated that she is unlikely to receive any more than a modest settlement, but that her contributions to the welfare of her children (one of whom is Mr Vince’s biological child) in circumstances of financial poverty will prove relevant.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Wyatt v Vince serves as a powerful reminder of the need to resolve all financial matters at the time of divorce. Even if there are no current assets to distribute, there is a need to expressly prohibit future claims in order to protect any future assets that one party may have in years to come.