The decision by the Supreme Court in the case of Wyatt v Vince has received a lot of press in recent days.

The case concerned a couple who at the time of their divorce some 20 years ago had no financial assets at all, they had been living what was described as “a hippy lifestyle” with no assets and no income. At the time of their divorce no application was made to the Court to dismiss their financial claims against one another, a relatively simple procedure, which protects the divorced spouse from claims cropping up in the future.

Although the couple had no assets at the time of the divorce the husband has subsequently built a highly successful green energy firm, now worth many millions, all of which was acquired after the divorce. However, because the financial claims were not dismissed the wife has now made an application to Court seeking a financial settlement. It is her case that she was left destitute whereas her ex-husband went on to develop and grow this highly successful business.

The final decision of the Supreme Court was that it did not consider a draconian power to strike out family proceedings was appropriate. In most other civil claims there is a clear limitation period meaning that if you don’t make your application to Court within that timescale you loose the right to pursue a claim. This decision of the Supreme Court makes clear that such an attitude does not apply in family cases. The approach of the Supreme Court was to leave the door open but then leave the decisions as to what’s an appropriate Order in each individual case to be decided according to the facts of each case.

Although there is now a difference of opinion between leading lawyers as to whether this will lead to lots of claims or that the case is so unusual that it won’t have a more general application, it is clear is that had the husband filed a Consent Order at the time of the divorce he would have been largely protected from further claims.

The key point here is that a consent order or financial order would have prevented this happening and it is essential that people seek legal advice to formally resolve their financial claims and protect themselves from the risk of an application in the future.

As a direct result of Legal Aid cuts, many couples may now be unable to access legal advice without giving proper consideration to their financial circumstances, seeking financial remedy or dismissing their claims where appropriate.

At MW we fear that this will lead to far more people having the same kind of experience that Mr Vince is having to deal with. As well as having to pursue a financial remedy case, Mr Vince has ordered to pay his wife’s costs for pursuing the case to the Supreme Court. Whilst the case is obviously unusual and highly unlikely to be repeated very often it does determine a point of principle which is that the Court will not, just because of the passage of time, refuse to hear an application for financial relief.

Nicola Jones-King, Head of McMillan Williams Family and Children Department adds:-

It’s important that people seeking legal advice at the time of their separation and divorce, and ensure that their financial affairs are properly resolved.

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