It is reported that the couple met as students in their early 20s, married in 1981 and lived a new-age traveller lifestyle. The couple separated in the mid-1980s with nothing in the way of assets and later divorced in 1992. It was only after the couple’s separation and delayed divorce that Mr Vince set up his wind-power company in 1995, which grew to become a hugely successful company.
In 2011, Ms Wyatt lodged her claim for financial remedy and despite a lengthy legal battle, she has finally won a net award of £300,000. It is worthy of note that the settlement was negotiated between the couple, however, the judge approved the agreement as “reasonable”.
When a couple divorce, they are issued with a Decree Absolute, which means that the marriage is at an end. There is a common misconception that a Decree Absolute automatically dismisses financial claims, however, this is not the case. Whilst the parties were divorced back in 1992, there was no financial clean break or Consent Order dismissing one another’s financial claims. This resulted in the parties’ financial claims being left open. In the intervening years, Mr Vince went on to be very successful and wealthy.
As there was no clean break or Consent Order at the time of divorce, Ms Wyatt was fully entitled to apply to the court for financial remedy, despite the years that had passed.
Ms Wyatt’s claim was lengthy due to the fact that the Court of Appeal threw out her claim, saying that due to the “passage of time”, the claim was an “abuse of the Court process”. Ms Wyatt then pressed on to the Supreme Court, who said that under Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, her contributions to the family should be taken into account and that her claim was valid. The court added that there is no time limit to making a claim.
This case is unlikely to “open the floodgates” for financial claims from ex-spouses years after divorce as, whilst Mrs Wyatt’s legal costs are unknown, they are likely to be high and will undoubtedly need to be deducted from her settlement. To put the case into some perspective, it has been agreed that Ms Wyatt will receive just 3% of Mr Vince’s reported wealth, which highlights that Ms Wyatt will ultimately receive a meagre sum given the assets available and due to the number of years that have passed since the divorce.
In order to prevent such circumstances arising, it is advisable to enter into a financial clean break upon divorce. The same scenario could apply where, some years after a divorce, one of the parties were to accumulate significant wealth by other means – such as by a lottery win or inheritance.