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Divorce law blog

…a cautionary tale

22/04/2015   By:

Multi-millionaire Dale Vince, wind-farm entrepreneur and founder of Ecotricity, has failed in his attempt to strike out his former wife’s financial claims which come more than 20 years after their divorce. The decision of the Supreme Court last month means that his former wife, Kathleen Wyatt, has a green light to pursue her claim for a lump sum against Mr Vince. She also has the benefit of a costs funding order which requires Mr Vince to pay a total of £125,000 to enable Ms Wyatt to pay for legal advice and representation.

This is a truly exceptional case. The couple’s marriage in 1984 lasted only two years and throughout that time (and for several years after their separation) the parties had very little in terms of income. Mr Vince lived a nomadic life as a new-age traveller which left Ms Wyatt to bring up their son and her daughter with little financial support from Mr Vince. Ms Wyatt eventually filed for divorce and the marriage ended in 1992. However, 12 years after they separated, Mr Vince started his green energy business and by 2001 he was worth many millions of pounds.

So, should Ms Wyatt be able to claim a share of Mr Vince’s fortune when it was built up long after their marriage had ended? Well, she certainly has the opportunity to try although she may face an uphill struggle. The fact is that in England and Wales there is no time limit when it comes to making a financial claim associated with a divorce. This means that, unless the couple actively deal with their finances and get the arrangements recorded in a Court order, claims may be brought many years after the actual divorce. Delay is instead taken into account by the Court when making an overall decision as to how the finances should be divided and it is a highly relevant factor – delay can reduce or even wipe-out out a potential financial award. It is therefore always best to try and sort out your finances at the time of the divorce and get it recorded in a Court order.

The most common way couples record how they intend to divide their finances is in a consent order. The couple have to agree to the proposed arrangements (they may have come to the agreement themselves, negotiated the agreement using solicitors or used mediation) and attendance at Court is usually unnecessary. A solicitor prepares the relevant paperwork to send to the Court and the Court is invited to approve the arrangements and make the consent order. Even if a couple have very few or no assets or do not intend to make any financial provision for each other, the value of a consent order cannot be underestimated. The importance lies in its ability to dismiss any future claims once and for all. Future claims can only be dismissed by a Court and it is only by dismissing future claims that you can protect yourself from a claim against money, for example, you inherit or win on the lottery or indeed any other improvement in your finances after the divorce. If Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt had obtained a consent order dismissing future claims, Ms Wyatt would now be prevented from making her application.

Ms Wyatt’s financial application will now go ahead. The success of her application is far from guaranteed but significant legal costs will be incurred and the stress and disruption of the proceedings coming so long after the end of the marriage will certainly take their toll. The real sting in the tail is that the proceedings could so easily have been avoided with a consent order at the time of the divorce.

Kim Aucott

Family Law Associate


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