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The 6th April 2022 heralded the new “no fault” divorce procedure. This simplified the process to obtain a divorce, however, it remains vital for separating couples to ensure that they agree the terms of a financial settlement at the same time as their divorce or the dissolution of their civil partnership. A Consent Order incorporating the terms of a financial settlement can be approved by the Court at any point after a Conditional Order is pronounced in connection with the divorce / dissolution proceedings.
Even in cases where there may be considered to be modest assets or none at all at the point of the divorce, it is important to have a Consent Order and the legal certainty and finality that this can bring. This is demonstrated in the reported case of Wyatt v Vince.
Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt were married in 1981 and later had a son together in 1983. Mr Vince moved out of the family home the following year. At the time when they were married, Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt lived as New Age travellers and were said to have had very little money between them. They later divorced in 1992, however, by 1995, Mr Vince’s fortunes had changed and he had formed a green energy company which was estimated to be worth £57,000,000. In contrast, Ms Wyatt was of very modest means, and having seen her ex-husband’s business success decided that she would attempt to make a financial claim against her him.
Although the parties had been separated for ten times as long as they lived together, Ms Wyatt was not prevented from making this claim as there had never been a “clean break” Order at the time of the divorce in 1992.
The Court of Appeal initially struck out Ms Wyatt’s claim as it was considered to have no prospect of success and could be considered to be an abuse of the Court process. The Supreme Court, however, granted her an appeal against that Order and allowed her to pursue her financial claim. Whilst the Supreme Court did not make any financial orders in Ms Wyatt’s favour at that point, nevertheless she was still permitted to make the application despite the extraordinary delay in doing so.
An agreement was finally reached that Ms Wyatt would receive a lump sum of £300,000 in settlement of all her financial claims against Mr Vince. This for most people is a surprising result as the marriage was short, there was a delay in the application being made and Mr Vince’s wealth was created after the divorce and not as a consequence of his and Ms Wyatt’s joint endeavours.
Whilst the facts of this particular case may be particularly extraordinary, it clearly demonstrates the need to resolve financial matters at the time of the separation and divorce in order to avoid any unexpected surprises in future.
Mr Vince learned the hard way and so it is advisable to seek legal advice at an early stage and ideally negotiate the terms of a financial settlement amicably and without the intervention of the Court.
For more advice about negotiation the terms of a financial settlement arising from your separation then please contact a member of our family team. We have offices in Hinckley, Market Bosworth, Stoney Stanton, Leamington Spa & Warwick. You can find details of our offices here.