Nailing down agreements on divorce

A Supreme Court ruling will allow a former wife to make a claim for a share of the fortune amassed by her husband 30 years after they parted, as no binding consent order was made when they divorced.

Kathleen Wyatt has been granted permission to lodge a belated claim against multi-millionaire Dale Vince, who made his fortune through a green energy company founded in the 1990s, which is said to be worth £57m.

The couple met and married in 1981 and had a child in 1983, separating just one year later. The wife became a full time single parent with little income, and had little contact with her ex-husband. 

There is no time limit in the UK within which a spouse must seek an order for financial provision following a divorce and in 2011 the wife put forward an application.  This was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and the application was taken to the Supreme Court to decide whether due consideration had been given to section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

Having given Ms Wyatt permission to apply, it will be up to the trial judge when the case is heard as to whether any financial order is made. The wife could argue that she cared for the child leaving her ex-husband free to succeed in his business. 

Debbie Bulmer, Head of Family, explains, “It is certainly unusual to hear of a claim being made after all this time but without a consent order in place, the opportunity remains open.

“More people are thinking about pre or post nuptial agreements, following media coverage of high profile cases where these have been involved, such as German heiress Katrin Radmacher.  Certainly they are a sensible option for anyone getting married, but they are for use at the start of the relationship to set out what you wish to have happen if things go wrong. They are not legally binding in the UK, but will be a persuasive factor if both parties received independent legal advice at the time. 

“What’s involved here is the way in which a divorce is finalised. Once you’ve reached agreement, you can get the court to make it legally binding, by applying for what is known as a consent order and that’s what was missing in this case.” 

A consent order confirms what has been agreed and can include details on how assets will be divided, including cash, property, pension funds and other investments, and can also include arrangements for maintenance payments, including child maintenance.  Both parties have to agree and sign the draft consent order and a judge will consider the terms to see if they appear fair and reasonable, and if so will approve the agreement to make it legally binding. 

She added  “Going through the process of obtaining a consent order should mean that both parties come out with a fair settlement and there will be no surprises some years down the line.” 

WYATT V VINCE [2015] UKSC 14

Note: 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.


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