Newcastle and Hexham’s Top Divorce and Family Law Specialists, Major Family Law comments in the North East Times:
We’re all guilty of procrastination, especially when it involves dealing with something we’d much rather avoid. Whether it’s wilful avoidance, an overly vague intention, or because we’re too easily distracted, we let things slide all the time.
In an extreme case, a woman made a claim for financial provision against her former husband nineteen years after they divorced. It seems the couple were habitual procrastinators, having been separated for more than twice the length of their marriage before even commencing divorce proceedings.
The parties were described as having lived a “traveller” lifestyle during their three year marriage, which probably not only explains the lack of any financial assets within the marriage, but also the couple’s laid back approach to putting their affairs in order.
Presumably, at the time the couple were divorcing, they saw no need to obtain a legal order dealing with financial matters between them on the basis they had nothing of note financially – a common misconception.
A few years after the couple divorced, the husband set up a wind power business, which subsequently became very successful and was alleged to be worth millions. Although both parties went on to new long term relationships with other partners, and the husband even remarried, the wife still brought a financial claim against her former husband 19 years after they had divorced.
Not only was she seeking financial provision for herself, but she also sought a payment from the husband of £125,000 to fund her legal fees to bring the application.
The husband, unsurprisingly, asked the Court to strike out the wife’s claim. The Judge at this first level refused his application however and he was ordered to pay the wife’s legal costs. The husband appealed the decision and the case went to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal have now overturned the original judge’s ruling, but the wife in turn has appealed that decision and at the end of this year, her appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court. The wife’s application was originally made in 2011, meaning ultimately it will have taken over three and a half years for the matter to be decided one way or another.
Many will see this as a classic example of grasping ex-wives. Even the Court of Appeal ruled that “the wife had lived an impecunious lifestyle throughout her life with both of the men with whom she had entered into family life. Under those circumstances she could not look to the husband to be her insurer against life’s eventualities”.
One would hope that, ultimately, commonsense should dictate that such a claim should not succeed, and that the Supreme Court will not allow the wife’s appeal, but whatever the outcome, the costs incurred by both parties to finalise this matter will be significant. Even if the husband’s position is ultimately upheld, he will be unable to recover his legal costs from his ex-wife, who remains impecunious.
The Court of Appeal said that although there was no limitation period in respect of applications for financial remedies following divorce, the court should not allow either party to a former marriage to be harassed by claims for financial relief which are both issued many years after the divorce and have no real prospect of success. This may well be of poor consolation to the husband at this time, still faced with one final appeal hearing.
The irony is that if one simple document dismissing all financial claims and effecting a clean break between the parties had been drawn up and approved by the Court at the time of the divorce, none of this would ever have come about.
The moral of the story? Perhaps that is best left to Abraham Lincoln: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
Rebecca Tarn is an Assistant Solicitor at Major Family Law, the Divorce and Family Law Specialists. Tel: 01661 824582 www.majorfamilylaw.co.uk.