Landmark Supreme Court bid in Family Law

News

Kathleen Wyatt, 55, has won a landmark Supreme Court bid to claim cash from her millionaire ex-husband 20 years after they divorced. Ms Wyatt first took legal action against Dale Vince, 53, founder of wind-power firm Ecotricity, in 2011. Mr Dale set up his company in 1995 after the pair had split. He is now worth an estimated £107m and has an OBE.

Ms Wyatt, who now lives in Monmouth, lodged her first claim for “financial remedy” in 2011; however Mr Vince had previously appealed against his ex-wife on the basis she had lodged the claim too late. Ultimately, five Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled Ms Wyatt’s case should go before the family court.

Delivering the ruling, Lord Wilson said the court must have regard “to the contribution of each party to the welfare of the family, including by looking after the home or caring for the family”. Her claim was “legally recognizable” and not an “abuse of process.”

In a statement, Mr Vince branded the court’s decision “mad” and went on to say that “I feel that we all have a right to move on, and not be looking over our shoulders.” “This could signal open season for people who had brief relationships a quarter of a century ago.”

Mr Vince also commented that the time gap was “extremely prejudicial” and the fact there was “no paperwork in existence” had enabled the claim. It was “hard to defend yourself” under such circumstances, he said.

Outside court, Ms Wyatt’s lawyer Barbara Reeves said her client had been through a “very difficult time” and was pleased the High Court would now be able to consider her claim. “She looks forward to concluding the litigation as quickly as possible,” she said.

The remarkable ruling highlights the fact that there is no time limit for ex-spouses to apply to a court for a financial settlement following a divorce, and it reminds us that divorcing couples who want protection from such claims, even if they have no money at all, should obtain an order from the court at the time of the divorce, in which they both agree that there will be no further financial claims.