Wyatt v Vince [2015] Landmark Supreme Court Decision

Kathleen Wyatt has been granted permission by the Supreme Court to make a financial claim against her former husband Dale Vince, who founded and runs the green energy company Ecotricity, over 30 years after the couple separated.

Why is it Landmark?

The case has highlighted at an astronomical level the importance of sorting out financial aspects on divorce and even in cases where there are no or little assets at the time of separation ensuring that financial claims are dismissed by way of a ‘clean break’ order to avoid your ex-spouse coming back to take a bite of the cherry decades later!

The facts

Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince met in 1981 when the wife was 21 and the husband was 19. They married that same year. Thereafter they were heavily reliant on state benefits. The wife had a daughter from a previous relationship who was considered as a child of the family. In 1983 their son was born. They later split in 1984.

They subsequently divorced in 1992. However, what is unclear is whether financial aspects were concluded upon divorce. The husband argued that the wife’s claims had been dismissed, however wife unsurprisingly says no order was ever made. Other than the decree absolute there is no trace of the Court papers from the divorce proceedings. When considering the disputed facts the Court of Appeal held that it was likely that no order was made. The Supreme Court concurred that this was the most probable scenario.

The wife went on to have two more children in a subsequent relationship. She remained the primary carer for the parties’ son until 2001 when he went to live with the husband.

Over 30 years on, whilst Wyatt has limited assets, Vince is a multimillion pound businessman. His wind turbine business estimated to be worth £57m.

The Application

The wife brought an application for Financial Remedy in 2011. The wife sought a lump sum and interim maintenance to meet her legal costs. The Husband cross-applied for the wife’s application to be struck out under 4.4 of the Family Procedure Rules. The High Court struck out husband’s application and awarded interim maintenance direct to the wife’s solicitors by way of a “cost allowance order”. Husband successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal who stuck out the wife’s application for financial remedy and ordered the husband to be repaid for the payments made to wife’s solicitors. The wife appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Judgment

In a unanimous decision, five justices of the Supreme Court held that the wife’s claim should not be stuck out without a full consideration of the issues.

The Supreme Court also reinstated wife’s cost allowance order and set aside the repayment order awarded by the Court of Appeal.

When considering rule 4.4 of the Family Procedure Rules and the grounds of “no reasonable grounds” and “abuse of the courts powers” the Court made reference to the parallel Civil Procedure Rules and the power of the Court to award summary judgement only in the latter proceedings. This, the Court held, is deliberate. Contrary to the Civil Procedure Rules, when a spouse issues an application for a financial order the court is to determine the application on all of the circumstances in accordance with s.25 of Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and therefore it is not appropriate to assess the application by way of summary judgment. The Supreme Court held that in financial remedy cases, an application should therefore not be stuck out by reference to prospect of success.

The Supreme Court’s decision in favour of the wife means that her case will go back before the High Court for determination. Whether the wife will be successful in that claim is another story completely!

Lessons to be learned

The case of Wyatt v Vince clearly demonstrates the importance of securing a financial order on divorce and the catastrophic consequences that the absence of a clean break order can have on a divorced individual even decades after separation.

If you need advice in relation to divorce, financial aspects and/or a clean break order contact our family solicitors on 0113 357 1315 or at enquiries@consilialegal.co.uk.

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