Wyatt v Vince

This case should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to understand how important it is to settle the financial issues arising from the marriage formally and finally at the time of the divorce. Many people who conduct their own divorce think that all they have to do is to obtain decree absolute and after that everything is done and dusted. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is that the financial issues arising from a marriage need to be dealt with formally and finally in order to dispose of them once for all. This requires a court order. Although it is not necessarily complicated that does almost invariably need the help of a solicitor. Simply doing this informally by, for instance, transferring a house from joint names into a sole name or paying a sum of money is NOT sufficient. We cannot emphasise this enough. What is required is a court order and this does not happen accidentally or automatically. It has to be applied for SEPARATELY. Decree absolute does not settle any financial issue in and of itself. More needs to be done. Many people who conduct their own divorce are completely unaware of this and they may remain unaware of it until the issue comes back to bite them perhaps many years later. The case of Wyatt v Vince is a graphic illustration of this.

The wife, Ms Wyatt, and the husband, Mr Vince, were married in December 1981. They had a son, and Mr Vince also treated Ms Wyatt’s daughter from a previous relationship as a child of the family. They separated in 1984.

To the mind of most people that would have been a short marriage of three years but note, first, that neither of them sought a divorce in 1984 although they could have done and in retrospect that might have been a good idea. In fact they did not get around to a divorce until about eight years later in 1992 when decree absolute was granted.

As it happens nothing much had happened in the intervening 8 years. The wife, Ms Wyatt, had been in straitened circumstances in 1984 and she was still in straitened circumstances in 1992. Similarly with the husband, Mr Vince. He had not been able to make any significant contribution to the maintenance of the  children because he had no money and that was still the case in 1992.

The important point, though, is that there was no evidence that the financial issues arising from the marriage had been dealt with at the time of the divorce. It is quite likely that they could have been dealt with simply at the time by a clean break. That is a court could have ordered that any claims that each had against the other arising from the marriage be formally dismissed and that neither could make any financial claim arising from the marriage against the other in the future. However, for a court to have ordered that it would have been necessary for  either Ms Wyatt or Mr Vince to ask the court to do so (and pay a separate court fee). There was no evidence this had ever  been done. Perhaps they did not know it needed to be done. For whatever reason there was no evidence that it had been done.

Note what happened next. From the late 1990’s Mr Vince’s business flourished and he became a multimillionaire. In 2011 Ms Wyatt made an application in the divorce proceedings for financial provision in the form of a lump sum. She also applied for interim payments to fund her legal costs.

This case was litigated all the way up to the Supreme Court. Mr Vince, unsurprisingly, thought it could not possibly be right that his ex wife could make these financial claims 27 years after they had separated and almost 20 years  after they had divorced. The Supreme Court disagreed and sent the case back to the original court for the judge to decide how much Mr Vince should pay his  ex wife. The amount he paid was in fact later settled out of court and the terms of settlement  were approved by the court.

This case underlines just how important  it is  to ensure that the financial issues arising from the marriage  are  disposed of formally and finally at the time of the divorce. To do this almost invariably needs legal help but this case illustrates just why it needs to be done. This is the case even if at the time of the divorce there  are  no assets or income worth talking about. In such a situation the costs of getting the necessary court order will probably be quite modest if both are agreed.

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