Joanne Major, Principal of Major Family Law, Newcastle’s best Divorce and Children’s specialist lawyer states at the beginning of the year, we wrote in the North East Times about the case of Wyatt v Vince in which Ms Wyatt was attempting to bring a claim for financial settlement some 18 years after divorcing Mr Vince.
The eyes of the legal world have been trained steadily on this case, and today’s Supreme Court ruling has confirmed what family lawyers have been advising clients for years: that there is no time limit for ex-spouses to apply to a court for a financial settlement following a divorce.
Despite the length of time since the couple divorced, they had never obtained a final Order from the Court dismissing all financial claims against each other. Like many others, the couple – being somewhat impecunious throughout their relationship – believed there was no need to obtain any Order in respect of financial settlement when there was nothing to divide.
Subsequent to the divorce, however, Mr Vince found wealth and recognition with a green energy business he founded and is now a multi-millionaire. By comparison, Ms Wyatt, who raised the couple’s son alone, continued to live in modest circumstances.
Mr Vince had sought to have Ms Wyatt’s claim struck out without ever proceeding to a hearing on the basis there was no foundation for the claim. Such a process exists in general civil claims (where it is known as summary dismissal), and indeed most legal actions are subject to a time limit in which to bring the suit.
The Judges hearing the appeal to the Supreme Court were unanimous, however, in ruling that applications for financial settlement following divorce are not suitable for a summary determination as to whether the application should be allowed to proceed. They were clear that any such application should be considered irrespective of whether there appears any real prospects of the claim succeeding, unless the application is not legally recognisable. This would include where a financial Order had already been made or the Applicant had remarried.
Although the Judges have clearly indicated to Ms Wyatt that she faces significant challenges to succeeding in her claim and that the level of award she is claiming is unrealistic, nevertheless, she will be allowed to proceed to a hearing and a decision. Mr Vince has called the judgment madness.
The simple lesson to be taken from today’s decision is that in every case of divorce, even where there are no assets, a formal Order should be obtained from the Court dismissing all future financial claims by one party against the other, thereby effecting a clean break.
The Judgment can be read here:
Our earlier article can be read here: