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Wyatt v Vince - the importance of finality

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The long running case involving Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince garnered national attention last year when the case came before the Supreme Court (Wyatt –v- Vince [2015] UKSC 14). The High Court has now delivered a judgement (Wyatt v Vince [2016] EWHC 12368 (Fam)) which should mean that the case has now finally been concluded.

The parties married in 1981 and had one son. Ms Wyatt also had a daughter from a previous relationship, who was treated by Mr Vince as a child of the marriage. The parties separated in 1984. At that time, neither had any assets of any significance; they lived at times as new age travellers.

The parties eventually divorced and the Decree Absolute was pronounced in October 1992. However, as the Court file had been mislaid, it was unknown whether a final Financial Order had been made, although it was assumed for the purpose of the proceedings that it was likely that there was no such Order. In other words, neither party’s financial claims against the other had been formally dismissed by way of a Final Order. Following the parties’ divorce, Mr Vince made his fortune after founding a green energy supplier, Ecotricity . The company now has an estimated market value of £57 ,000,000. Ms Wyatt, in contrast, struggled with low paid work and periods of unemployment, while also caring for the two children.

In 2011, after discovering Mr Vince’s upturn in fortunes, Ms Wyatt brought an application for a Financial Remedy. Mr Vince applied for the application to be struck out under the rule 4.4 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, on the grounds that Ms Vince was time-barred from bringing her application. A Deputy High Court Judge dismissed Mr Vince’s strike out application; however, Mr Vince appealed subsequently to the Court of Appeal, who reversed the decision. Ms Wyatt then appealed to the Supreme Court, who reinstated her application, on the basis that it is the duty of the Court in determining the application to have all of the circumstances of the case under Section 25(1) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and, in particular, to the eight matters set out on Section 25(2).

In other words, Lord Wilson ruled that there was no automatic power on the part of the Court to strike out an application for a Financial Remedy. However, Ms Wyatt was warned that the financial relief which she was seeking (c. £1.9 million) was far in excess of what she was likely to receive.

Following a failed FDR hearing on 28th October 2015, the parties subsequently reached a compromise in relation to the litigation, in order to avoid the significant costs associated with attending a final hearing. The matter came before Mr Justice Cobb, sitting in the High Court, to approve. Mr Justice Cobb stated that:

“I am perfectly satisfied that it is reasonable, and that the wife is entitled to receive a modest capital award following the breakdown of this marriage; the lump sum payment agreed between the parties fairly represents, in my view, a realistic and balanced appraisal of the unusual circumstances of the case …I appreciate that the husband does not see it this way, having explicitly offered the sum merely to weigh off this litigation at this stage as cost effectively as he can”

Mr Vince has agreed to pay Ms Wyatt a lump sum of £300 ,000 in full and final settlement, although it is unclear how much of this award will need to be paid by Ms Wyatt towards her outstanding legal costs. While, Mr Vince was previously to pay Ms Wyatt’s costs of bringing the matter before the Supreme Court, any legal costs incurred by Ms Wyatt since that hearing will need to be paid by her.

The case, whilst raising some interesting legal points, would not have been necessary, had Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince addressed the financial claims arising out of the breakdown of their marriage at the time that they divorced. The pronouncement of the Decree Absolute does not automatically terminate the parties’ respective financial claims. It is thus important that divorcing parties take steps to resolve the financial claims arising out of the breakdown of their marriage at the time of your divorce; otherwise, they run the risk of becoming embroiled in litigation many years later. Specialist legal advice should be sought once a breakdown of a marriage appears likely.

Here at Roythornes , the members of our specialist family law team will be able to advise you in dealing with the financial claims arising out of the breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership. The family law team regularly deals with cases involving businesses, properties, trusts and other assets, sometimes totalling millions of pounds across the East Midlands, East Anglia, Kent and beyond. The family law team is happy to accommodate a meeting at any of Roythornes’ four offices in Spalding , Peterborough , Nottingham and Newmarket, by telephone or by skype /video conferencing.

Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the family law team by telephone – 01775 842500 – to discuss matters. Alternatively, please send an email to nickingrey@roythornes.co.uk .