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Woman's claim against millionaire she split from 23 years ago sets a new precedent

Divorce| 20.03.2015

The story of a woman whose marriage broke down 30 plus years ago winning the right to seek payments from her millionaire ex-husband has certainly grabbed the media’s attention recently. For those who haven’t heard about it it’s worth highlighting as its ramifications could be huge.

The case surrounds Kathleen Wyatt who has been given permission by the Supreme Court to lodge a belated claim against her very wealthy ex Dale Vince, the founder of energy company Ecotricity.

Wyatt who brought up their son is claiming £1.9m from the relationship with Vince who has since re-married and is according to press reports worth £57m.

The relationship began in 1981 and their son was born in 1983, but soon after they split up and were formally divorced 23 years ago in 1992. In these intervening years Vince’s business took off and his son now works with him.

In a unanimous decision, five justices of the Supreme Court said the family court could not strike out Wyatt’s claim without full consideration of the issues, but warned Wyatt she faces “formidable difficulties” in seeking to establish that any financial order should be made in her favour because of the very long delay and the fact that the relationship was short, lasting less than three years.

She may, the Supreme Court said, be able to rely on her much greater contribution to the upbringing of the couple’s child over many years, a factor which they said could justify a financial order for a comparatively modest sum.

Wyatt will now have to continue her battle by returning to the high court to pursue her claim.

To us at Pearcelegal we see this ruling paving the way for anyone without a completed financial order to bring a claim against their ex-spouse regardless of how long ago they parted.

This highlights the importance that all financial matters are finalised at the time of divorce, and when a court order is obtained. Without this it opens up prospects for future claims for a share of the wealth earned after the divorce.

It is unprecedented to hear of a claim being so long after a break up, but the court has ruled that because there was no financial order and no time limit in family law for making a financial order, there was absolutely nothing to prevent the claim from being successful.

The high court will meet to decide how much she should receive bearing in mind current law. The legal world and many wealthy business people will continue to watch with some trepidation.

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