The recent case of Vince v Wyatt [2013] EWCA Civ 495 is a stark example (and warning) of why it is becoming increasingly important to obtain a final financial order if you have taken the decision to get divorced, and why you should always retain any documentation relating to your divorce and financial matters.

Dale Vince and Kathleen Wyatt married in the early 80s, had one child and after a short marriage were separated in 1984. The divorce was granted in 1992 and, having owned hardly any assets, according to Ms Wyatt, they (rather unwisely) did not deal with the financial aspects of their marital breakdown and did not obtain a final order. Interestingly, there was some evidential dispute about whether or not a financial application had been made all those years ago but, because much of the documentation had been destroyed, whether this was true remained unclear.

Following the divorce, Mr Vince went on to bigger and better things.  His wind power business became hugely successful, making him a multi-millionaire.  Having learned of his success, (perhaps through their child) Ms Wyatt decided to try her luck and issue financial proceedings against him.  Every spouse (and ex-spouse) in England and Wales can bring a claim for financial relief under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.  The only time when a first financial application is not permissible is if he or she (i.e. the intended applicant) has remarried.  

After a number of hearings and substantial legal costs, the Court of Appeal concluded, some might say rightly so, that Ms Wyatt’s financial application should be struck out on the basis that there was no reasonable ground for her having brought the claim and, husbands in circumstances similar to Mr Vince, should not be harassed by financial claims many years after a divorce.

Despite what might be considered a fair and sensible outcome in the case, Vince v Wyatt serves as a cautionary tale. The temptation, after a marital breakdown, is to press on with life and move forwards as quickly as possible – without looking back.  This is especially the case when a divorced couple had, during the marriage, fairly modest, separate or straightforward financial arrangements, but this is a dangerous approach to take. The time, money and stress involved in defending financial claims like those mounted against Mr Vince emphasises the importance of always ensuring that the financial aspects of a marital breakdown are properly resolved, with the benefit of proper legal advice.  as financial claims can be brought against a wealthier spouse or ex-spouse 5, 20 or even 30 years after a separation or divorce.

It is always advisable to galvanise your combined efforts to resolve financial matters, reach a financial settlement and/or dismiss any financial claims with the benefit of a financial agreement which is then approved and made by the Court into an order and, therefore, made legally binding. The process does not have to be costly, time consuming or stressful and, as Mr Vince discovered, it can eliminate the risks of defending expensive and distressing proceedings later on in life.