The importance of financial orders upon divorce

Naomi Hayward

Partner & Collaborative Lawyer

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June 15, 2016

Categories Family Law

Financial remedy order approved in widely publicised long running divorce settlement case of Vince and Wyatt.

Following on from the land mark judgment allowing an ex-wife, Mrs Wyatt, to bring financial proceedings against her (now multi-millionaire) ex-husband, Mr Vince, 19 years after the grant of their decree absolute of divorce.

As a reminder, the litigation had been underway since 2011 beginning with Mr Nicholas Francis QC sitting as deputy judge of the High Court, Family Division, allowing Mrs Wyatt to bring her claim, dismissing Mr Vince’s application to strike it out as an abuse of process and ordering him to pay the wife’s solicitors £125,000 to fund her legal costs.

Mr Vince appealed and the Court of Appeal struck out Mrs Wyatt’s application for financial provision and ordered her to repay some of the money she received towards her legal costs.

Mrs Wyatt then appealed to the Supreme Court and it is this ruling that has made the headlines. The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal which meant that Mrs Wyatt was able to launch her financial provision application which was to proceed in the Family Division of the High Court.  The original order for Mr Vince to pay Mrs Wyatt’s legal costs was also restored and the order for her to repay Mr Vince some of the legal costs set aside.

A brief summary of the parties’ relationship is that they married in December 1981 when they were in their early 20s.  Mrs Wyatt already had a 2 year old daughter from another relationship whom Mr Vince treated as his own.  The parties’ son was born in 1983.   In 1984 the parties’ separated.  The parties’ marriage therefore lasted for just over 2 years.  From 1985 Mrs Wyatt’s and the parties’ children’s lives were insecure and they lived a hand to mouth existence.  Mr Vince had contact with both children post their separation.  The parties’ met up at Stonehenge, Glastonbury and elsewhere but eventually divorced in 1992.  Mr Vince did not provide any maintenance for Mrs Wyatt or for the parties’ children because he was at that time, impecunious.

Mrs Wyatt went on to have 2 more children in a new relationship which did not last and they did not marry.

Mr Vince travelled around for 8 years or so, post the parties’ separation, until he launched his wind energy firm Ecotricity Group Ltd now worth an estimated and staggering £57 million.  Mr Vince has remarried and he has a young son.

Mrs Wyatt heavily based her financial claim on the complete absence of financial support received from Mr Vince for both her and the children since the date of the parties’ separation.  Mr Vince was in no financial position to pay any maintenance until near the end of their son’s minority which resulted in Mrs Wyatt and the children living in near poverty.

Agreement between the parties

Following on from the Supreme Court’s ruling Mrs Wyatt’s financial application proceeded and the parties engaged in a financial dispute resolution hearing but were unsuccessful in reaching an agreement.  However, shortly after, a financial order was agreed between them and at a private hearing on 20th May 2016 the Family Division was invited to approve an order.  The Court was also invited to rule on whether the terms of the agreement should be made public as well as whether Mr Vince should pay the costs of the 20th May hearing.

In a judgment dated 10 June 2016, the Court ruled that that it was in the public interest that the final order settling the proceedings should be revealed and that it was further in the public interest to make known that the parties had been able to reach a negotiated settlement without attending trial.   The Court further ruled that Mr Vince should pay the costs of the hearing.

In summary, the financial remedy order agreed between Mrs Wyatt and Mr Vince is as follows:

1. A lump sum of £300,000 to be paid to Mrs Wyatt in full and final satisfaction of all of her financial claims;

2. Mrs Wyatt to retain a payment on account of £200,000 paid to her by Mr Vince towards the costs of the Supreme Court appeal;

3. Mrs Wyatt to retain a payment of £125,000 towards her costs as made in December 2012;
Mrs Wyatt’s final legal bill was, at the date of the judgment unknown, so the net effect of her final award (taking account of the sums set out at 1 – 3 above) are not known and the Court ruled will not be made public.

Frustratingly for Mr Vince, had he obtained legal advice at the time of their separation he would likely have been advised to pursue an order dismissing his and Mrs Wyatt’s respective claims to prevent any such future application should his financial position improve.  This process would have saved Mr Vince the above award of £625,000 plus his own costs which are likely to be staggering (not to mention the stress of 5 years’ of litigation).

Obtaining a financial remedy order whatever your circumstances is standard advice that the Family Law team at Furley Page give to our matrimonial clients.   Obtaining a Decree Absolute is only evidence of the end of a parties’ marriage and does not bring an end to financial claims.

Importance of independent legal advice

This case underlines the importance of obtaining independent legal advice at the time of your separation and any subsequent divorce.  Without achieving finality by incorporating your agreement, however large or small, into a financial order for approval by the Court, then claims may be pursued many years later.   As is evidenced in this case, young couples divorcing after short marriages are most at risk because of the likelihood, of their financial positions improving in later life.

For further information contact our family law team on 01227 763939