Thursday, 12 March 2015

UPDATE: Hey, where did my divorce go? Supreme Court judgment in Wyatt v Vince

TIMELINE: click on image to enlarge
The Supreme Court has released its decision in the case of Wyatt v Vince [2015] UKSC 14 following the wife's appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal to strike out her financial remedy claim which was brought 20 years after the parties divorced.

In a previous post on this blog, which sets out the facts of the case and provides a timeline of events, I looked briefly at the Court of Appeal's decision and specifically focused on the issue of retaining client documents in circumstances where there is no limitation period.

Whilst the Supreme Court allowed the appeal, it should be noted that this is in relation to the interpretation and application of the law, specifically Rule 4.4(1)(a) and (b) of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, and not in relation to the merits of the wife's case.

With a case like this with such extreme and unusual facts, and with issues that generate such strong emotions and opinion, there can be a tendency for the media to get carried away. Examples of some of the headline over the last two days are set out below: 

"Former New Age traveller wins right to cash he made 10 years after they divorced" from The Metro 11 March 2015

"Wife wins right to ex-husband's millions - 30 years after they separate" from

"Millionaire tycoon Dale Vince faces having to buy ex-wife a home 23 years after they divorced" from London Evening Standard

What the Supreme Court found:

The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeal had exercised a power to strike out a financial claim on divorce based on a summary assessment of the merits of the claim when such power does not exist in family proceedings. Such a power does exist in civil proceedings in order to prevent people being able to pursue un-meritorious claims at an early stage. The Court of Appeal judges had reasoned that an equivalent power must also exist in the FPR notwithstanding the fact that it was not explicitly stated. The Supreme Court found that the omission in the FPR was deliberate citing the differing nature of a claim arising from a civil or commercial relationship and that of a claim arising from the breakdown of a marriage which could have financial consequences for an ex-spouse years after the marriage particularly when there are children involved.

What the Supreme Court did not find:

The Supreme Court did not find that Kathleen Wyatt was entitled to a share of Dale Vince's millions but rather that she is entitled to have her claim heard before the Court with due consideration to all the factors set out in section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, of which the considerable delay between the divorce and the claim will be relevant as will the fact that the husband made his money after the parties separated. It may be that, following such an exercise, the High Court may decide that Katheen Wyatt should be entitled to receive something from Dale Vince but that is yet to be seen and is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Whilst there may be some concern about people bringing un-meritorious claims against their former spouses years after they have untied the knot, surely it is of equal importance to consider dealing with a couple's financial claims sooner rather than later so that such issue can be avoided in the future? After all, it was open to Dale Vince to ask the Courts to determine his ex-wife's claim at any time over the last three decades but he did not do so.

It remains the case that there is no limitation period on financial claims on divorce. If the claims are not addressed and dismissed they will remain open. That is the position in law which the Supreme Court has made clear this week.

Please make any comments below.