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Supreme Court finds against wind farm tycoon over financial settlement

Wife wins right to claim share of ex-husband's fortune earned after divorce

12 March 2015

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Wife wins right to claim share of ex-husband's fortune earned after divorce

The Supreme Court has unanimously allowed an appeal from a woman claiming £1.9m from her ex-husband despite filing for a financial settlement 20 years after divorce.

Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince married in December 1981. They had two children, one of which came from Wyatt's previous relationship but who was accepted as part of the family.

The couple divorced in October 1992 after living a 'New Age' traveller lifestyle. At the time of divorce neither party had any assets or income. However, following the separation, Vince formed Ecotricity, a company specialising in selling green energy to consumers, which became hugely successful.

Wyatt claimed that her ex-husband provided virtually no financial support since their separation and lodged a claim for financial remedy in 2011.

The appeal to the Supreme Court considered section 23 of the Application of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, and its relationship with the Family Procedure Rules 2010, rules 4.4(1)(a) (no reasonable grounds for application) and (b) (abuse of court's process).

The Supreme Court directed that Wyatt's application proceed in the Family Division of the High Court. The justices were told the appellant desires £1.9m from her ex-husband. Lord Wilson said that such a payout was 'out of the question', that her claim was still 'legally recognisable' and not an 'abuse of process', and that there was a 'real prospect' she would get a 'comparatively modest award'.

The court also restored a cost allowance order from deputy judge Nicholas Francis QC in the High Court, and set aside the Court of Appeal's repayment order. The respondent must now make interim payments in respect of legal costs to his ex-wife's solicitors.

Commenting on the judgment, chair of Resolution Jo Edwards said the Supreme Court had made it clear that the 'draconian power' to strike out family proceedings simply does not exist, but stressed that the court will consider the merits of such applications on a case-by-case basis.

Edwards added that should Wyatt have lost her appeal, Resolution would have been concerned that those without access to legal advice - as a result of the legal aid cuts - could have been at risk of having applications struck out without proper consideration.

'But it's also important that people who have become wealthy over time are not exposed to potentially opportunistic claims many years after a marriage has broken down,' said Edwards. 'We want to see reform of the law around financial provision on divorce. Part of that is a desire for greater clarity and a clearer intention to get couples to financial independence sooner.'

She continued: 'It will be interesting to see how the court now approaches Ms Wyatt's substantive claim, with clear indications from Lord Wilson of the likely limits of her claim in view of the facts of this case. If she had pursued her financial claims at the time of separation, there would likely have been a capital clean break at that point and no ability to come back and claim more now.

'It seems unlikely that she will be able to sustain a needs-based claim. She is more likely to succeed on the basis of her contributions through caring for the children after the marriage breakdown, but her delay in bringing a claim may well dictate otherwise.'

This article first appeared on PCA's sister publication, Solicitors Journal

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Family