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Vince v Wyatt - why you really must have a Consent Order on divorce

The importance of having a Consent Order on divorce was hammered home yesterday in the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of Vince v Wyatt.

The Judges unanimously agreed that an ex-wife whose financial claims were not dismissed on a divorce that took place in 1992 could seek a financial settlement from her former husband.

The point of law that the Supreme Court had been asked to consider was whether or not Ms Wyatt’s claim for financial support from her ex-husband was an abuse of process and should be struck out. The Supreme Court directed that it was not and that the claim should proceed in the Family Division of the High Court.

The facts of this case are highly unusual.  Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt only lived together for two years. They met in 1981 when Mr Vince was 19 and Ms Wyatt was 21 and already the mother of a young daughter. They married in December 1981 and had a son, in 1983. But Mr Vince moved out the following year. At the time of the marriage the couple lived as New Age Travellers and had very little money. When the couple divorced Mr Vince was not asked to pay maintenance as it was accepted that he had no money.

In an incredible reversal of fortune however Mr Vince founded a wind energy firm in 1996. It is now worth an estimated £57 million.

In 2011, many years after the marriage broke down, Ms Wyatt lodged a claim for financial support. She argued that Mr Vince had failed to provide for their son, and her daughter, whom he had treated as a child of the family.

Although the claim was initially allowed it was blocked by the Court of Appeal which found it had “no real prospect of success” and was an “abuse of process”.

Whilst the Supreme Court’s ruling means that it has been clarified that there is no time limit in bringing a financial claim after a divorce this does not mean Ms Wyatt will be successful. Although she can now make an application the judgment of the Supreme Court states that she faces “formidable difficulties”. It gave the following reasons:“(a) The marital cohabitation subsisted for scarcely more than two years. (b) It broke down 31 years ago. (c) The standard of living enjoyed by the parties prior to the breakdown could not have been lower. (d) The husband did not begin to create his current wealth until 13 years after the breakdown. (e) The wife has made no contribution, direct or indirect, to its creation.”

When a couple divorce they are always advised to make a Consent Order. This records the financial settlement they have agreed between them and can dismiss all future claims. Had Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt had a Consent Order Ms Wyatt could not have made her claim.

Couples with few assets sometimes decide not to have a Consent Order because they do not want to pay the costs involved and because they have very little money to argue over. This case just goes to show that even in such cases it is worth having a Consent Order as it is never possible to predict what the future will bring.