Vince v Wyatt: The Supreme Court’s controversial decision

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Last month, the Supreme Court held that an ex-wife was entitled to pursue her claim for financial support from her ex-husband, despite the divorce having been finalised more than two decades ago.

The couple originally divorced in 1992. At the time they had no assets. However, in 1995 the husband founded Ecotricity, a multi-million pound renewable energy company.

The wife claimed that she had been unable to advance any financial claim until 2010, after seeking the advice of a fifth firm. During this period all paperwork relating to their separation and divorce had been destroyed- save the decree absolute. As a result it was not clear whether the parties had dealt with their financial claims at the time of the divorce.

The Court of Appeal had previously indicated that the judges should adopt a robust case management stance in “hopeless claims” such as this one, due to the pressures already on the court system. However, the Supreme Court held that this was the wrong approach, and whether or not a claim in the Family Courts had a real prospect of success was not a basis for allowing it to be stuck out.

A unanimous judgement from the Supreme Court held that although Mrs Wyatt would face “formidable difficulties” in bringing the claim, she was entitled to do so, and that her “greater contribution to the upbringing of the couple’s children over many years… may justify a financial order”. The Court therefore returned the case to the High Court to consider the quantum of Mrs Wyatt’s claims.

The Court also held that the husband was to provide the wife with the funds to finance the legal proceedings.

This case appears to have paved the way for couples to seek financial settlements based on contributions made at any point- during the marriage, after separation, and even after divorce. This case shows that financial claims can persist, even many years after a divorce, if not dealt with properly at the time.

Need help with financial issues in your divorce? Contact one of our solicitors to ensure that the matter is dealt with quickly and properly.

If you wish, read the Supreme Court’s judgement in full.

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