Last month we posted here about the case of Dale Vince and Kathleen Wyatt, who had divorced in the 1992 after having separated in 1984, when neither had any significant assets.
In 1995 Mr Vince started his wind turbine business, which grew into the very successful “Ecotricity”. In May 2011 Ms Wyatt then made an application to the court for financial relief from Mr Vince, including an application that he should pay her costs. Mr Vince asked the Court to strike out this application, which was initially unsuccessful. He then appealed to the Court of Appeal. As is often the way, it has taken a considerable period of time for this matter to be resolved, but earlier this month the Court of Appeal upheld the appeal. Ms Wyatt’s claim was struck out and she was not permitted to proceed. Although much of the judgement concerns technical matters concerning the Court’s power to strike out the application, the view that the Court took on the merits of the application so long after the divorce is very clear.
Lord Justice Thorpe said “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… He is not her insurer against life’s eventualities.”
Lord Justice Jackson agreed with Lord Thorpe’s judgment, adding that “there is no statutory bar to bringing a claim for financial relief ten, twenty or even thirty years after the divorce. Nevertheless, in my view the court should not allow either party to a former marriage to be harassed by claims for financial relief which (a) are issued many years after the divorce and (b) have no real prospect of success. It must be an abuse of the court’s process to bring such proceedings. The present case is a classic example of such abuse.”
In my view, this must be the right decision. People must be able to move on with their lives without fear of a claim being made against them decades later. So how can these claims be avoided? If the parties enter into a clean break order, dismissing any claims which either might have against the other, both can move forward without the risk of a claim being made in the future. Such an order brings to an end the right to make any further applications, and can be included as part of a wider financial order dealing with the financial settlement as a whole, for example one which also deals with the sale or transfer of the matrimonial home or with the sharing of pensions. If Mr Vince had been able to produce a clean break order, all the time, stress and costs of the Court proceedings could have been avoided. In this case, Mr Vince claimed that an earlier financial application was dismissed, but there was no evidence found of this. The answer to this is to make sure that you keep all those papers in a safe place! And a further note of caution, always take legal advice before remarrying if you have not yet made a financial claim as this could prevent you from making an application.
Image by mjhbower under a Creative Commons Licence