Last month the Supreme Court delivered its decision in the well publicised case of Wyatt -v- Vince.

The case involved a claim by Kathleen Wyatt seeking financial orders against her former husband Dale Vince, which was being brought approximately 30 years after the parties separated and 23 years after divorce.   Many years after the breakdown of the marriage, Mr Vince founded the green energy Company, Ecotricity, and became a multi millionaire. 

In the Court of Appeal Ms Wyatt’s claim was struck out on the basis that she had no reasonable grounds for bringing it.  One of the Court of Appeal Judges also said that an application which had no real prospect of success was an abuse of the Court’s process and could be struck out on those grounds.  Ms Wyatt appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Family Procedure Rules do contain provision for applications for financial orders on divorce to be struck out.  However, the Supreme Court decided that an application could not be summarily struck out simply on the basis that it had no real prospect of success. 

The Supreme Court also confirmed that in itself delay (and even a very long delay) is not a bar to brining a claim for financial orders.  The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 provides that such orders can be made on the granting of a decree of divorce “or at any time thereafter”.

Nevertheless, where there has been a delay in bringing a claim, the Court will look critically at the reasons for the delay.  In some circumstances delay in bringing a claim may lead to the Court making reduced or even no provision in favour of the applicant.  Each case will depend on its own circumstances.

The Supreme Court stated that Ms Wyatt’s application faced formidable difficulties.  This was a very short marriage and the parties had separated over 30 years ago.  There were no assets available at the time of the breakdown of the marriage and Mr Vince had started creating his wealth some 13 years later.  However, the appeal was allowed and the case was referred back to the High Court for determination.

Although the facts of Wyatt -v- Vince were perhaps highly unusual, the case does demonstrate that there can be financial consequences for parties long after they have divorced.  An applicant’s case may be prejudiced by delay in bringing their claim.  On the other hand a respondent may be exposed to a potential claim by a former spouse, even if that claim is brought many years after the breakdown of the marriage.  It is perhaps important therefore for divorcing parties to take legal advice and address financial issues at the time of divorce.  

For advice on family and matrimonial matters please contact one of our highly experienced team for further details. 


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