Last month, a woman won a landmark Supreme Court bid to seek payments from her ex-husband, twenty years after they had divorced. The case involved Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince, the founder of wind power firm Ecotricity, who set up his renewable energy business in 1995 after the pair had split. The ruling sets a striking precedent for disputes of this nature and underlines the fact there is no time limit for ex-spouses to apply for a financial settlement following a divorce.
In coming to his decision, Lord Wilson of the Supreme Court asserted that the court must have regard to the ‘contribution of each party to the welfare of the family, including by looking after the home or caring for the family’. For the case in question, the court found that Ms Wyatt had raised her son through sixteen years of real hardship and that her claim was ‘legally recognisable’ and not an ‘abuse of process’. Even so, whilst Ms Wyatt was given the right to seek money from her ex-husband, the £1.9m pay-out she had hoped to receive was clearly too high and ‘out of the question’.
The Supreme Court’s judgement acts as a timely reminder that divorcing couples wanting future immunity from such claims should obtain an order from the court at the time of the divorce, clearly stating an express agreement that no further financial claims will be made. Such an order is the only way to guarantee this protection and ensures that, if an individual goes on to make a fortune in the future, they get to keep it.
The judgement itself went against the grain of other areas of law in relation to claims. In a breach of contract, for instance, the law imposes a strict time limit of six years following the breach. Likewise, in personal injury cases, there is a standard time limit of three years from the date of injury in order to bring a claim. In divorce cases however, the Supreme Court has demonstrated that a claim can be made decades after the divorce itself.
If you and your spouse are considering a divorce therefore, it is highly advisable to obtain a written separation agreement. At Seatons, our team of highly trained legal professionals have a wealth of experience in handing divorces and provide clear, easy to understand legal advice at low sensible fees. For more information, feel free to give us a call on 01536 276300.