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South West Family Law

The importance of a clean break order when divorcing

A case which made headline news last year concerned an ex-wife who came out of the woodwork to make a financial claim against the husband she had divorced twenty years previously. Kathleen Wyatt did not lodge a claim until nearly twenty years after their divorce and was seeking £1.9m from Dale Vince whose green energy business was estimated to be worth £57m.

The couple had met as students and lived a new age lifestyle. They were married for only four years and at the time of the divorce there were no assets. However, the husband had subsequently become a businessman and a millionaire. Crucially in this case, they had a son whom the wife had brought up and cared for.

Originally the courts said that she had no case but this was overturned and the Supreme Court agreed, with Lord Wilson saying that her claim of £1.9m was ‘out of the question’ but that she did have a reasonable prospect of succeeding in gaining a ‘comparatively modest award’.

In a statement, Mr Vince said: “I’m disappointed that the Supreme Court has decided not to bring this case to an end now, over 30 years since the relationship ended.

“We both moved on and started families of our own… it’s been so long that there are no records, no court has kept anything, and it’s hard to defend yourself in such circumstances – indeed the delay itself has enabled the claim, because there is no paperwork in existence.

“I feel that we all have a right to move on, and not be looking over our shoulders. This could signal open season for people who had brief relationships a quarter of a century ago… it’s mad in my opinion.”

However there is an important point which the media (and Mr Vince) did not consider; Ms Wyatt had raised their child, now an adult, with minimal support from her ex-husband, even when it was clear he had the means to provide proper support. This was crucial in the court’s reasoning. He had become a millionaire, she was raising his child and was unable to progress her career.

There has been no further reporting on the case and we can assume it has settled for considerably less than Ms Wyatt was seeking and at a sum that Mr Vincent could afford from his huge wealth. Is this the sort of miscarriage of justice the media were describing?

Whilst the headline concentrated on the length of time in bringing the claim, there is an important point to be made here; when divorcing, even in a case where there are no assets, it is important to obtain a clean break order from the court which dismisses all further claims between the parties – and essential to keep a copy.

You never know what the future might bring.

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