This month a man who was divorced from his wife 30 years ago has just found out that she might now make a claim against the fortune that he has amassed since their separation.
Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince met in 1981 and were married the same year. They lived on state benefits and had no significant assets. They had a son in 1983 and then parted. The relationship lasted for 3 years in total although they did not formally divorce until 1992. The crucial point in this case is that at the time of their divorce, they did not enter into a financial agreement (known as a Consent Order) which at that time would probably have merely recorded the fact that neither party would make any financial claim against the other in the future.
After their separation Dale Vince began experimenting with wind power. He made a small windmill at a music festival which he used to charge mobile phones. From this most humble of beginnings, Mr Vince worked hard to build up an empire and he now owns Ecoelectric and is apparently worth around £90million. Kathleen Wyatt brought up their son after the marriage broke down and she has now turned to the Courts to ask for an award of £1.9million from her former spouse.
Whilst the Judges who heard her initial application in the supreme court ruled out the possibility of Ms Wyatt ever receiving £1.9million, they did acknowledge that she was entitled to have her case heard on the basis that there is no time limit on cases being brought for financial provision from a former spouse. This is in contrast to other civil cases many of which would require a claim to be brought within 6 years.
Purely because the Judges have granted Ms Wyatt permission to proceed with her application does not necessarily mean that she will ever receive anything from Mr Vince but the Judges in the Supreme Court acknowledged that she may be able to rely on an argument of “contribution” in that she brought up the parties’ son for many years. The fact that the relationship itself only lasted 3 years and the delay in bringing the claim are likely to hamper Ms Wyatt’s prospects of success but some may say that if she is awarded anything now, that sum is likely to be more than she would have received had she brought a financial claim against her former husband at the time of their divorce.
There is a very simple way to prevent financial claims being made at an untold point in the future. All people who go through a divorce, whether they have assets or not, should either enter into a Consent Order which can be drawn up by Solicitors if an agreement can be reached or in cases where agreement concerning the assets is not possible one party will have to make an application to the Courts for a Judge to determine what should happen. If one party remarries without having taken either of these steps then they will lose their matrimonial claims against their former spouse but this does not curtail the other party’s ability to bring matrimonial claims at a point in the future if they have not remarried.
Even if you were divorced many years ago you can still think about entering into a Consent Order at this stage which can record what happened to your assets at the time of the separation and record that neither of you will make any further claim. Provided you have your ex-spouse’s agreement to enter into a Consent Order it is never too late to do so. When it is too late is when you have amassed a post separation fortune and your ex comes out of the woodwork wanting a slice of the cake.