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Supreme Court allows a wife to make a financial claim on her husband 18 years after divorce.

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By Sarah Cornes

Wyatt v Vince – The Supreme Court has allowed a wife to make a financial claim on her husband 18 years after their divorce.

After several years of legal battles, the Supreme Court confirmed today that they will allow a wife’s claim against her ex-husband’s multi-million pound fortune to continue, despite the fact that she issued her claim 18 years after they divorced.

Lord Wilson established that Ms Wyatt’s initial claim in 2011 should not have been struck out by the Court of Appeal in 2013, and she has been granted a short hearing in the Family Division of the High Court.

Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince married in 1981 and lived a modest new-age lifestyle. After their divorce in 1992, there was little money and the parties went their separate ways. In 1995, Mr Vince founded Ecotricity, a highly successful wind-power company which has now made Mr Vince worth an estimated £107m. During this time, Ms Wyatt was a single parent to their son, and allegedly received minimal financial support from her ex-husband. Ms Wyatt made a number of attempts to bring a financial claim several times over the years, but only succeeded in 2011.

Ms Wyatt’s application was struck out by the Court of Appeal as it was thought that she did not have a reasonable chance of success. The Supreme Court confirmed that not only was this a misapplication of the Family Procedural Rules, but that Ms Wyatt’s application was legally recognisable and not an abuse of process.

Significantly Lord Wilson highlighted that in future cases the court should always have regard to “the contributions each family member has made…to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family”.

Although it would appear to be now only be a matter of time before divorcees issue claims against their now wealthy ex-spouses, in the expectation of a substantial payment, this judgment only allows Ms Wyatt’s financial claim against Mr Vince to be heard. Lord Wilson said that Ms Wyatt would not receive the £1.9m sought from Mr Vince’s estate as this was “out of the question”, but that there was a ‘real prospect’ that she would get a “comparatively modest award”.

The judgement illustrates, for those in Mr Vince’s position, that it is essential to obtain a financial Consent order at the time of divorce, based upon the parties’ financial circumstances at the time.  The decree absolute of divorce does not in itself prevent a former spouse from making a financial claim many years later.

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