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Financial Settlement and Time Limits: Supreme Court Appeal on Maintenance Claim Against Ecotricity Millionaire

Financial Settlement and Time Limits: Supreme Court Appeal on Maintenance Claim Against Ecotricity Millionaire

A landmark settlement case involving a millionaire businessman goes before the UK’s highest court this week. It concerns Dale Vince, of Stroud, Gloucestershire, and Kathleen Wyatt, who married in 1981 when they were both new age travellers. They had a child, but separated in 1984 and divorced in 1992; neither retained any documents from the case, and the solicitors’ files from the time have since been destroyed. Three years later, having lived for a time in an old ambulance, Mr Vince went on to found Ecotricity, a renewable energy company now worth an estimated £90m. Ms Wyatt, meanwhile, says she is currently so poor, she is having to travel to hearings by bus, and is sleeping in a bus station.

Last year, the court of appeal struck out Ms Wyatt’s claim against her ex-husband, ruling that he was not her “insurer against life’s eventualities”. Lord Justice Jackson described the proceedings as “an abuse of the court’s processes”.

Claim left too late

Senior Family Judge Lord Justice Thorpe said she had left her claim for £2m – around £100,000 a year for every year they had been apart – too late. He added “The wife no doubt can appeal to his sense of charity but in my judgment he is not to be compelled to boost the wife’s income by the exercise of the jurisdiction under the Matrimonial Clauses Act 1973“.

However, her lawyers successfully asked for her case to be heard by the Supreme Court. Ms Wyatt was able to make the claim because in family law cases, unlike in the civil courts where the time limit for most actions is three years, or six years for personal injury claims, there is no time limit for a former spouse to bring a financial lawsuit.

Full hearing could follow

After they broke up, Ms Wyatt was left to care for the couple’s young son, along with her daughter from a previous relationship. After her fortunes worsened, she went to see Mr Vince in the early 1990s, only to have him shun her request for aid. In 1995, she contacted the Child Support Agency, only to receive abuse from her former husband when it began to investigate his finances. In a statement to court, she said “I couldn’t cope with the stress caused by him. I asked them to stop the assessment because I feared Dale would become violent towards me”.

The case is being heard by a panel of judges, led by Lady Hale, the UK’s most senior female judge. If Ms Wyatt’s appeal is successful, it will lead to a full hearing, which will decide whether any financial settlement is due; something which could have significant implications for those who separated years ago, without coming to any financial arrangement.

At IBB Solicitors, we understand that family break-ups are traumatic for both children and adults. We’re here to help you resolve divorce and separation issues as swiftly and sensitively as possible with caring, compassionate advice and representation. We will always give you practical and honest advice and protect your interests robustly should there be court proceedings. We have experience in dealing with a variety of clients and situations including high net worth divorce cases, particularly where complex assets or overseas arrangements are involved.

Is an application for financial remedy possible?

Divorce lawyer at IBB Solicitors, Amanda Melton, commented:

“This highlights a real problem which arises from time to time. When a couple are going through divorce and have little if any assets at that time and one party is less than cooperative it is standard to advise that they should seek a clean break order. That order has the effect of dismissing any future claims they may have against each other and would prevent this type of action arising some years later. If the other party will not agree to such an order the only option is to ask the court to make one. To do that the Judge will need to go through the process of satisfying himself that this would be fair hence there will be disclosure and a hearing. That is expensive to achieve and when there are no assets at the time it is tempting to leave the situation as it is. The risk is that if some years later one of them is successful and becomes far more wealthy than the other, there is nothing to prevent the spouse from bringing a claim. Ordinarily one would argue that time must have defeated that claim but as one of the factors the court are required to consider is each party’s needs and another of those factors each party’s resources, the possibility of an order cannot be dismissed. The outcome of this case will hopefully assist in assessing exactly to what extent a delay of several years would affect the chances of success of a financial remedy application.

There are many people out there who have divorced at some stage in the past and who may not appreciate they are entitled to make an application so long after their divorce. If there is an award made in favour of Ms Wyatt it will undoubtedly bring this to the fore and we can expect more applications of this nature I am sure.”

Divorce lawyers in Amersham, Chesham and surrounding areas in Buckinghamshire

We do everything in our power to make the separation and divorce process as painless as possible. Our divorce and family lawyers in the South Buckinghamshire area provide you with a full range of family law services in complete confidence.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of family law, are considering divorce proceedings, or a trial separation, or want to draw up a pre or post-nuptial agreement, call us in absolute confidence on 01494 790058 or 01494 790047. Alternatively, email us at familylaw@ibblaw.co.uk.