In a landmark decision in Wyatt –v- Vince, the Supreme Court ruled that the ex-wife of energy supplier Ecotricity’s founder could proceed with a claim against her ex-husband, although it is more than 20 years since they divorced. He was also required to pay her legal costs to bring the claim against him.
Mr Vince married Ms Wyatt in 1981 when they were both penniless. They subsequently divorced in 1992. In 1995 Mr Vince founded Ecotricity, now one of the UK’s biggest green energy companies. His wealth is believed to be £107 million.
In 2011, the Wife issued financial proceedings and applied for an order that the husband should make a payment of a lump sum order to her in satisfaction of all her financial claims. She also applied for an order that the husband should make interim periodical payments to her in sums equal to her estimated costs of the substantive application. The husband cross applied for an order that the wife’s substantive application should be struck out.
High Court decision
On 14 December 2012, the court dismissed the husband’s cross application on the wife’s application and ordered the husband to pay for the wife’s legal costs by way of interim periodical payment to her (in fact directly to her solicitors) at the rate of £31,250 per month for 4 months (in total £125,000). The Husband appealed to the Court of Appeal against both orders.
Court of Appeal decision
On 13 June 2013, the court set aside the orders of the lower court, struck out the wife’s substantive application and ordered that of the £125,000 (which had by then be paid in full by the Husband), the wife should repay to him such sum as exceeded that state of her account with her solicitors which amounted to £36,677. The Wife appealed.
Supreme Court’s judgment
The Supreme Court allowed the Wife’s appeal and said that she could proceed with a financial claim against her ex-husband, despite being divorced for 22 years and that the husband should pay her legal costs.
What are the implications from this case?
This case may raise fundamental questions about the fairness in the family justice system and may pave the way for anyone without a completed financial order to bring a claim against a former spouse regardless of how long ago they divorced. It is therefore important to ensure that all financial matters are finalized at the time of the divorce; a financial order needs to be obtained as the final decree of divorce (the decree absolute) is not sufficient on its own, to prevent a future financial claim being made against a former spouse. A separate financial order has to be sealed by the court.
If you would like further advice in connection with the matters raised in this article then please contact Miss Vincent in our family department on 01926 422 101.