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Tie up loose ends to ensure you can move on – Wyatt v Vince

Most couples who go through the breakdown of a marriage will be aware that the way of legally bringing a marriage to an end, is to issue divorce proceedings.  As well as the divorce proceedings, they will have to consider the arrangements for the children and the financial arrangements.   In a lot of cases, there will not be sufficient money to enable both parties to purchase their own property or to rehouse themselves and the children in appropriate accommodation.  There may be debts to worry about and often the last thing that you will want to consider is spending money on legal costs.  Therefore, you may decide that you will resolve financial matters between you, without the need to involve Solicitors or the Court.

I am advising an increasing number of new clients who separated or divorced a number of years ago, who either did not resolve financial matters or agreed matters directly with their former spouse.  In some cases, there are significant assets which have been divided equally between the client and their former spouse.  In other cases, there have been no financial matters to resolve, for example if there are no assets of the marriage, and neither party are employed.  What a lot of people do not appreciate is that, if you did not apply to the Court to approve a financial agreement or to dismiss your claims against each other, then a former spouse can apply to the Court at any time following the divorce, for Orders for spousal maintenance, lump sums, claims against property and pensions. 

In some cases where there has been an equal division of substantial capital at separation or divorce and one spouse has been financially irresponsible or had not invested capital wisely, there is nothing to prevent them making a claim against their spouse for a further lump sum or a claim against their property or pension years later upon divorce.

The Supreme Court judgment in the case of Wyatt and Vince has hit the headlines, as Miss Wyatt had been allowed to proceed with a financial application, eighteen years after her divorce.  The parties separated after three years of marriage and the Decree Absolute was granted in October 1992.  In 1995, Mr Vince set up his Company, Ecotricity, and he is now estimated to be worth £107 million.  Miss Wyatt is seeking a sum of £1.9 million.  This is a reminder that if upon divorce the Court have not dismissed either party’s claims, then it is open for a former spouse to apply to the Court for a financial settlement, years after the divorce has been granted.

Therefore if you are considering divorce, even if you do not have any money or assets, it is advisable that you obtain an Order from the Court in which you both agree that you will not make any further financial claims against the other.   The Court can make a clean break Order upon divorce, which means that neither spouse would have any further claim against the other, provided the Order is fair and appropriate in the circumstances.  A Court Order is the only way to offer protection if one of the spouses accumulates wealth in the future.

Therefore, it is important to resolve financial matters at the time of separation or divorce, so that there is financial certainty which will allow you both to move on, without looking over your shoulder in the future.

You may consider that you are saving legal costs in dealing with matters yourself, but if you instruct Solicitors to apply for a Court Order, you may be saving yourself a fortune.