Tom Farley Hills of Harbottle & Lewis explains why Kathleen Wyatt was always going to win her case at the Supreme Court
Multimillionaire Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, is now facing a financial claim from his ex-wife Kathleen Wyatt more than 25 years after his marriage broke down. This is the outcome of this week's ruling by the Supreme Court.
Dale has described the decision as 'mad', however the potential for these claims is always present when couples divorce but don't have a formal court order drawing a line under money claims – a salutary warning for any HNW's who may be in a similar position. The ex on Facebook may well try and track you down.
The Supreme Court has warned Kathleen that she is unlikely to get the ’2 million she is claiming, however a sum sufficient to buy a mortgage-free property may be well be on the cards.
Dale and Kathleen were New Age travellers when they first met in 1981. Dale was nineteen and Kathleen was 21. The couple had a son and relied on state benefits to get by. The marriage lasted just three years but the couple did not legally divorce until 1992.
Many years later Dale, having moved on with his life, set up a wind turbine business which eventually became Ecotricity. He is now a very wealthy individual and has his own castle.
Had Dale and Kathleen asked the court to make a financial order back in 1992 when they divorced this would have been the end of the matter. This wasn't done and this left the door open for Kathleen to ask for financial support from her now wealthy ex-husband.
When people think of divorce, they probably think the divorce itself wraps everything up. However a divorce is only half the job; there is a separate process to deal with the finances. Without dealing with both applications there is no finality on the marriage claims, but many people don't realise this, which is why the Supreme Court's decision handed down yesterday in the case of Wyatt v Vince came as a surprise to some.
Dale's argument, which the highest court in the land rejected, was that Kathleen's claim had no prospect of success given the delay that had occurred between the divorce in 1992 and the money claim on divorce in 2011.
The surprise to most non-family lawyers is how a person so long after the marriage can be entitled to claim against their ex-spouse. The answer is because unlike most other types of claims under civil law, money claims on divorce are not time limited. They run and run until one of three things happen: the potential claimant remarries, one of the parties dies or the court makes a court order capping off claims.
This case demonstrates the importance of closing off any claims. This is especially the case if you are a penniless internet entrepreneur with the next big social media idea.
To prevent a claim and avoid buying your ex a house in 30 years:
1. Get legal advice when separating
2. Make sure that financial claims are dealt with there and then.
3. Even better, particularly for those entering into a marriage with wealth already acquired, is to have a nuptial agreement which can reduce the uncertainty even further by defining the claims on divorce whenever they are brought.
Tom Farley Hills is a family law partner at Harbottle & Lewis and specialises in complex and HNW divorces