….so sang the legendary country singer, Tammy Wynette almost 50 years ago. With a divorce so many years ago, one might think it was all “done and dusted” as did a Mr. Dale Vince who divorced his wife, Kathleen Wyatt, in 1992, but, not necessarily so, as the Supreme Court ruled recently. For the subject of this blog, I’m grateful to my colleague at Curwens, Family Law specialist, Vijaya Sumputh :
“The talk of this week has been about Kathleen Wyatt (“Kathleen”) and Dale Vince (“Dale”), whose case is a warning to many couples starting divorce proceedings and emphasises the importance of seeking legal advice to finalise financial matters. Kathleen’s marriage to Dale ended in divorce in 1992. At the time neither party had any financial security. Kathleen raised their children without significant financial support from Dale, who eventually went on to have a successful career and acquire considerable wealth.
In 2011, nearly 25 years after their separation and over 20 years after their divorce, Kathleen lodged a maintenance claim seeking a £1.9 million payout from Dale. Her application was originally dismissed under Rule 4.4 of Family Procedure Rules on the basis that there was no prospect of success or was an abuse of the court’s process. Kathleen took her case to the Supreme Court, where Lord Wilson stated that Kathleen’s claim was “legally recognisable” and not an “abuse of process”. His Lordship admitted that “it is obvious, even at this stage, that an award approaching [£1.9million] is out of the question,” but one factor Kathleen could rely on to justify a financial claim was that of her much greater contribution to the upbringing of the parties’ children over many years. Consequently, she may now be entitled to make a claim for a mortgage free property and maintenance.
This decision is striking because matrimonial claims are very different to other civil claims and remain alive after the marriage has come to an end. This case reminds us that there is no time limit for former spouses to apply to a Court in England and Wales for a financial settlement following a divorce, even if their claim is considered to be weak. We have to wait and see whether Kathleen’s application has any value when reassessed by the Family Court, but, meanwhile we may see an increase in opportunistic divorce financial applications.
This is a wake-up call for divorcing couples who do not want to have sleepless nights and a big hole in their pockets, that they should obtain a financial order from the Court at the time of their divorce stating that neither party will make a further financial claim against the other.”