There has been a lot of news and controversy about financial claims between spouses recently. It could be argued that the cases demonstrate that there should be a reform of the law so that there is greater certainty for divorcing couples aimed at their respective financial independence as soon as possible.

The first case illustrates how important it is to obtain a final order for financial matters on divorce, as the law stands. If you do not – a claim could come out of the blue to potentially bite you at any time in the future.

This is what occurred in the case of Wyatt v Vince when the Supreme Court allowed the wife’s claim 23 years after divorce to proceed. The facts of the case were very interesting in that it had been a short marriage. The couple had been penniless throughout their relationship and Dale Vince had after the divorce transformed himself from a New Age traveller to a multi millionaire having built up a green energy business from scratch without any input from Kathleen Wyatt.

Mrs Wyatt, for various reasons, had not pursued her original application for a final order. The Court of Appeal in May 2013 had previously allowed his appeal against the dismissal of his application to strike out Mrs Wyatt’s claim. The Supreme Court however has re-instated her claim.

On the one hand, it is positive news that the Court did not decide to exercise the draconian power of “striking out” since this precedent may have encouraged courts to be more liberal in striking out claims, thus putting those without access to legal advice more at risk of not having their claims properly considered.

On the other hand, there is likely to be many who would welcome reform which would make it difficult for claims to be made in possibly an opportunist way by one party who has done little to advance themselves financially, against a former spouse many years after divorce after they have worked hard and built up a fortune. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Mrs Wyatt is awarded when her case is considered by the court. The Supreme Court, indicated that whilst it is unlikely she will receive the £1.9 million or so lump sum she seeks, nevertheless she may be entitled to a more modest sum on a needs basis – unless the court rules that the delay in pursuing the claim does not cancel out her contributions through caring for the parties’ children after the marriage breakdown. We shall have to wait and see how successful she is and what impact that then has on future applications by others. It is of course ironic that if she had pursued her claim at the time of the marriage breakdown the outcome would most likely have been a clean break between the parties and no financial relief whatsoever. After that order had been made Mrs Wyatt would not have been able to have a “second bit of the cherry”.

The second case may have come as a shock to many spouses who believe that “they have a meal ticket for life” through spousal maintenance. The court has a duty to consider whether a “clean break” order is appropriate in every case – that is, one not involving spousal maintenance. However, in some cases spousal maintenance is necessary on needs basis. It is possible however to have an absolute “cut off” date in any order. Where there is no such cut off then it is open for the payee to apply for a variation of the amount paid – the only other event that would mean maintenance ceasing would be on the death of one of the parties, or the re-marriage of the recipient – co-habitation does not automatically mean maintenance payments would stop.

However in the recent case of Tracey Wright and her millionaire ex-husband Ian Wright, the judge told Mrs Wright to stop thinking she had the right to be “supported for life”; further divorcees with children aged over 7 years old should work for a living and she should “get on with it” and get a job like “vast numbers of other women with children”. Harsh words, and no doubt a decision that will be a death knell for those who dwell on leisurely living at their ex’s expense.

The importance of having a final, well drafted, final order is therefore paramount in the absence of any law reforms on the horizon. The other consideration would be for the parties to enter into a pre or post marriage agreement setting out financial terms on marriage breakdown. If you wish to have advice on these important considerations please contact Anita Garside-Slinger at Ringrose Law, 2/2a Bargate, Newark, tel 01636 594460, email: anitagarside@ringroselaw.co.uk

Meanwhile good news for some – a scheme to offer tax allowances is available for registration if he/she is married or in a civil partnership, have an annual income of less than £10,600 and the other spouse of between £10,601 – £42,385 and both persons born after 6 April 1935. Registration will attract a reduction in tax of £212 and available later this year.

 

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