18 years after divorce

Wife brings a claim against wealthy ex-husband

Vince v Wyatt [2013] EWCA Civ 495

Dale Vince and Kathleen Wyatt married in 1981, they had a child in 1983 and separated in 1984.

In October 1992 Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt were divorced. At the time of the divorce neither had any assets and both were claiming state benefits.

Since their divorce, both Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt went on to further relationships and have had more children with their spouses.

In 1996 Mr Vince founded Ecotricity which is now a very successful business estimated by The Sunday Times Rich List to be worth £90m. To say his financial circumstances had changed would be somewhat of an understatement.

Ms Wyatt then made an application to the Family Division for financial relief against her ex-husband in the form of a claim for a housing fund and capitalized lifetime maintenance. Unsurprisingly Mr Vince asked the Court to strike out Ms Wyatt’s claim on the basis that he was penniless when they were married and divorced and at the time when his ex-wife should have made a claim, he had no money and it would be unfair to order him to make payment to her simply because years later he became very wealthy and could pay.

The Family Division however did not strike out Ms Wyatt’s claim and ordered that Mr Vince provide Ms Wyatt with a fund to bring the claim against him. Not only did the Court therefore decide that Mr Wyatt should bring a claim but that Mr Vince should pay for her to do so!

Unsurprisingly, the Court of Appeal were asked to consider the decision of the Family Division and agreed that the claim should be struck out because at the time of divorcing, neither Mr Vince nor Ms Wyatt had any money and both had since moved on to new relationships. Mr Vince’s vast wealth was generated years after the parties divorced as a result of the success of his business which he started after the divorce.

The Court of Appeal unanimously agreed that the claim should be struck out.

Lord Justice Thorpe said:
“The facts of this case are extreme. Impecuniosity has been the experience of all of the wife’s adult life. Both the men with whom she has entered into family life were
seemingly equally impecunious. Her husband was the most improbable candidate for affluence. The wife no doubt can appeal to his sense of charity but in my judgment he is not to be compelled to boost the wife’s income by the exercise of the jurisdiction under the Matrimonial Clauses Act 1973. He is not her insurer against life’s eventualities.”

Lord Justice Jackson agreed saying:
“In my view the court should not allow either party to a former marriage to be harassed by claims for financial relief which are issued many years after the divorce and have no real prospect of success. It must be an abuse of the Court’s process to bring such proceedings…The present case is a classic example of such abuse.”

In relation to being ordered to pay Ms Wyatt’s legal costs, Lord Justice Jackson said:
“If the deputy judge’s order stands, the ultimate result will be that the wife recovers nothing, the husband pays all the costs of both sides and the husband has no prospect of recovering any of the costs which he has paid out”. As such the Court of Appeal also found that Mr Vince should not have been made to pay Ms Wyatt’s legal costs.

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