The recent ruling by the Supreme Court in the case of multi-millionaire Dale Vince highlights a potential risk to many divorcees.
The facts, in brief, are that the parties divorced in 1992, after which Mr Vince went on to launch a wind farm company, becoming a multi millionaire with an estimated wealth of £107 million. His former wife, Ms Wyatt, made an application for financial support in 2011, some 19 years after the divorce. The Supreme Court ruled that she is entitled to do so – as, in the absence of what is known as a clean break order made by the Court within the divorce proceedings, there is no bar on former spouses or civil partners making applications for financial support after divorce or dissolution.
“This case actually tells us nothing new. It has always been the case that divorce, of itself, does not end the right of one person to make a financial claim against the other. The case simply reaffirms that the only way to achieve finality in respect of finances is to reach an agreement at the time of the divorce and to have that agreement formally approved by a Judge.
“This is the case even if there are no assets to be argued over. Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince could have asked the Judge to approve a ‘clean break’ order at the time of their divorce, which would have dismissed both their financial claims. Had they done so, Ms Wyatt would not have been able to make an application now.
“Of more interest will be the size of the award Ms Wyatt ultimately receives, which has yet to be determined. Mr Vince will no doubt argue that as his wealth was built up entirely post separation, it is a ‘non-matrimonial asset’ meaning that Ms Wyatt has no claim to it. There is certainly case law to support that position. Ms Wyatt may counter that argument by claiming that she had contributed by raising the couple’s son until he was 18 years of age.
“The final decision as to what Ms Wyatt will receive, if anything at all, will be made by a High Court Judge. The best prediction is that the Supreme Court’s view will be followed, in that Mr Vince may be required to provide a modest, mortgage free home to Ms Wyatt as a reflection of the efforts she made in raising their child.”
For advice on all issues related to matrimonial and civil partnership issues, including financial claims, please contact Palmers family law team.