Once a divorce has passed the Decree Absolute stage (the final stage of the divorce process), the general expectation is that spouses are to move on with their lives and put their failed marriages behind them. In particular, it would seem rather incredible that a former spouse could be able to make a claim for financial support against an ex-spouse almost 20 years after their divorce. However, according to the UK law concerning this subject, there is no statutory time limit for bringing an application for financial support in divorce cases. In fact, the only real bar to making such an application occurs only when such former spouse remarries and is thereby no longer eligible to make an application for spousal support.
This particular issue was highlighted in the recent case of Wyatt v Vince which concerned a couple who met in college, got married but then subsequently divorced in their early 20s. Ms Wyatt came to the marriage with a daughter and the couple had a son together. Mr. Vince treated both of the children as his own during the course of the marriage. What’s more, during the course of the marriage and shortly afterwards, Mr. Vince’s lifestyle was that of a new age traveller, which meant that he could not provide much in terms of financial support for his family. After the end of his marriage, Mr. Vince’s energy business went on to be worth over 50 million pounds. As such, Ms Wyatt made an application for financial support which was upheld by the Supreme Court and then adjudicated by the High Court. Should Ms Wyatt have been allowed to recover for financial support after such a time delay? Or should Mr. Vince be allowed to enjoy his post-separation financial success without sharing? What are the broader implications?
To address these concerns, let’s consider both sides. Ms Wyatt alleged that she had tried to make applications for support in the past without much success, mainly because she had tried to do so without retaining a lawyer. Mr. Vince alleged that allowing a claim to proceed would be the equivalent of being able to ‘cash in on an old lottery ticket’. Mr. Vince further commented that a ruling in such favour would be ‘mad’ and ‘we all have a right to move on without having to look over our shoulders’.
Whether or not the court allows an application to proceed after a long time period depends on a number of factors, including such aspects as whether the applicant has any reasonable grounds for bringing the case or whether it’s an abuse of process. In addition, in this case, the courts considered whether Ms Wyatt’s contributions to the family should be taken into account and decided that she did have a valid legal claim to bring a case against Mr. Vince.
In closing, Ms Wyatt was awarded a lump sum payment of £300,000 as a full and final settlement in this case, while she had initially asked for £1.9 million. This sum is only a very small portion of Mr. Vince’s £57 million fortune and could be interpreted as being a fair sum for the small time the couple was together. This decision implies that courts are not willing to dismiss or strike out a case for financial support years later, without considering all the evidence. If you or someone you know find yourself in a similar scenario as Ms Wyatt and Mr. Vince, feel free to reach out to discuss your case with a family law specialist at Grayfords.