Financial settlement reached 23 years after divorce: finality for Vince v. Wyatt at last

The long-running case of Vince v. Wyatt has finally reached a conclusion, a full 23 years after the parties divorced ([2016] EWHC 1368 (Fam)).  For those of you who have been in a news bubble for the last few years, this was the case of the self-made eco-millionaire who refused to pay a financial award to his former wife who had applied for financial provision years after they separated.  The case was before the Supreme Court last year ([2015] UKSC 14) and was the topic of a previous blog post by Christopher Wall.

The parties only lived together for 2 years and had a child together.  They had an exceptionally low standard of living, and at times the wife was homeless. The wife raised the parties’ child without any significant financial contribution from the husband after separation whilst for some years he pursued a “new-age travelling lifestyle”.

Thirteen years after they separated, the husband established the successful eco-business, ecotricity, which has an estimated value of £57 million.  The wife sought £500,000 for a house and £1.35 million to support her for the rest of her life.

The husband applied to strike out the wife’s application for financial provision. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that there was no provision for strike out in financial provision proceedings based on prospects of success, and that an application would only be struck out if it was not “legally recognisable” [28].  The court allowed the wife’s claim to continue and referred the case for an FDR hearing.

Lord Wilson did, however, make some choice comments about the prospects of the wife’s application generally. He stated that an award of the size sought by the wife was “out of the question” and that it was a “dangerous fallacy…that the current law always requires rich men to meet the reasonable needs of their ex-wives”.  He cited Lady Hale in Miller v. McFarlane [2006] UKHL 24 in saying that a wife “must show not only that the need exists but that it has been generated by her relationship with her husband” [33].

The court went on to state that the wife’s application had a “real prospect of comparatively modest success, perhaps of an order which would enable her…to purchase a somewhat more comfortable, and mortgage-free, home for herself and her remaining dependants.”

Well it appears that the parties heeded the judge’s comments, as they settled on terms that the husband pay to the wife a lump sum of £300,000. The wife will also retain the benefit of the £325,000 paid by the husband to meet her legal costs.

This case acts a reminder to all parties to consider early settlement options.  It is also a lesson in finalising the finances at the time of divorce, for fear of allowing a claim some years down the line when financial circumstances may have changed significantly.