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Ruling allows ex-wife to claim financial support 23 years after divorce

Ruling allows ex-wife to claim financial support 23 years after divorce

The Supreme Court has ruled that a an ex-wife can make a claim against her ex-husband 23 years after the couple divorced. The decision by Lord Justice Wilson is considered significant and could lead to former couples revisiting old legal differences.

The court backed the right of Kathleen Wyatt to seek a financial settlement from Dale Vince, her former husband. The couple met when they were New Age travellers in 1981. They had a son together but separated in 1984, divorcing eight years later. Ms Wyatt had a son before she met Mr Vince and had two more children after they had parted.

Mr Vince subsequently moved on from the hippy lifestyle to found Ecotricity in 1995. The company has grown to be one of the largest environment-friendly energy companies in the UK and Mr Vince is said now to be worth around £100m.

Five Supreme Court justices decided on Wednesday that Ms Wyatt should be free to argue her £1.9m claim, despite the length of time that has elapsed, because the couple never reached a financial settlement. The case underlines the need to deal with financial matters at the time of divorce. Otherwise claims can remain open into the distant future. To discuss this or any other matter relating to divorce and separation, please contact an IBB divorce specialist.

Modest award likely

The judges also gave weight to the contribution made by Ms Wyatt by caring for the couple’s son. Nevertheless, the justices warned that Ms Wyatt would be unlikely to achieve the figure she is seeking and at best would secure a modest award – one that would enable her to “purchase a somewhat more comfortable mortgage-free home”.

Mr Vince may have to foot his ex-wife’s legal bill. He commented after the ruling: “I feel we all have a right to move on. This ruling could mean open season for those people who had brief relationships a quarter of a century ago.”

Ms Wyatt said the decision was “important”. The court heard she had been travelling to the hearings by bus and had been sleeping in a bus station.

Constructive resolution of family disputes

Jo Edwards of Resolution, an organisation of 6,500 members and other professionals committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes, commented that had Ms Wyatt lost the case, people denied legal advice because of legal aid cuts would have been at risk of having claims struck out, simply because of delay. She called for reform of the law generally on financial provision on divorce to achieve “greater clarity and a clearer intention to get couple to financial independence sooner”.

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 our experienced family law and divorce solicitors in absolute confidence on 01494 790058 or 01494 790047. Alternatively, email us at familylaw@ibblaw.co.uk.