Case study: Vince and Wyatt

Earlier this month, a landmark ruling in a divorce case saw an ex-wife receiving a share of her ex-husband’s fortune over 20 years after the couple divorced.

Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince married in 1981, after beginning dating as students. They separated in the mid 80’s and actually divorced in 1992.

They completed a divorce, obtaining Decree Absolute, leaving them both free to re-marry, which Mr Vince did in 2006. However, neither party took steps to end the financial claims they had against each other arising from their marriage. Kathleen Wyatt did not remarry and in 2011, she began court proceedings for a financial remedy, claiming a £1.9 million share of Dale Vince’s assets.

During the couple’s relationship, the pair lived as New Age travelers. They had very little money even by the time of their separation. They did have children, who remained in the primary care of their mother after separation.

Some years after the couple separated, Dale Vince began a career in business. He launched the company Ecotricity which grew in success over a number of years. The success of Ecotricity, which supplies energy to more than 100,000 customers, has made Mr Vince very wealthy and he now lives in a £3million 18th century Georgian fort and drives a custom-made electric supercar.  At the time of trial, his company was valued at around £57 million.

Kathleen Wyatt’s application was originally dismissed out of hand by the courts and ‘stuck out,’ for being an abuse of process. Initially, therefore, she was told that she had no right to make a claim given the length of time since the couple divorced and the fact that her ex-husband’s wealth was all built up after their marriage ended. After a series of appeals, the case ended up before the Supreme Court. In March last year, they concluded that the court had initially been wrong to dismiss her claim out of hand and it was not an abuse of process. She was entitled to a proper hearing on her application for financial relief.

Ms Wyatt’s application was allowed to progress and a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing took place in October 2015, providing the parties, with the assistance of a Judge, the opportunity to try and negotiate an agreement. Although a settlement was not reached at this court hearing, the parties did come to an agreement earlier this year on the basis that Ms Wyatt would receive £300,000 and her costs paid. The Judge who approved the settlement commented they were satisfied that it was a reasonable outcome and that ‘the wife is entitled to receive a modest capital award following the breakdown of the marriage.’ Whilst the amount might not seem modest to some, it is a very small proportion of the Husband’s fortune and considerably less than the lump sum of £1.9 million Ms Wyatt originally sought.

The Supreme Court’s ruling should stand as a stark warning to anyone who is thinking about completing a divorce without also putting in place a court-approved financial agreement. It is vital that you seek legal advice about the financial aspects of your separation at the time you divorce. Deciding not to do this because the assets you have are limited is no longer an option for anyone who wants to protect their potential future wealth.

The financial agreement (known as a Consent Order) addresses the claims a married couple has against each other and sets out how and when these claims should be brought to an end. Often this is with the purpose of achieving what is known as a ‘clean break’ between a couple. If your financial situation is straightforward (and this would have been the case for Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince in the early 1990s) the costs of this are quite low. FM Family Law will complete the drafting of a consent order for £600 in straightforward cases.