Vince divorce case shows need for reform

News Release

16 Mar 2015

Last week the Supreme Court published its decision on the Wyatt v Vince appeal, the case of Kathleen Wyatt, a woman seeking to make a financial claim 23 years after her divorce. In the time since their relationship, her former husband, Dale Vince, has gone from a penniless New Age traveller to a multi-millionaire green business owner as founder of energy firm Ecotricity.

Resolution believes that this case is an illustration of the need for reform of the law around divorce finance as set out in our Manifesto for Family Law. We want reform to create greater certainty around divorce with the aim of getting couples to financial independence sooner.

Resolution chair Jo Edwards comments:

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that the draconian power to strike out family proceedings simply does not exist, but stress that the court will consider the merits of such applications on a case by case basis.”

“If Ms Wyatt had lost her appeal, Resolution was concerned that people without access to legal advice as a result of the legal aid cuts would have been at risk of having their applications struck out without proper consideration simply because of delay, along arbitrary lines.

“But it’s also important that people who have become wealthy over time are not exposed to potentially opportunistic claims many years after a marriage has broken down. We want to see reform of the law around financial provision on divorce. Part of that is a desire for greater clarity and a clearer intention to get couples to financial independence sooner.

“It will be interesting to see how the court now approaches Ms Wyatt’s substantive claim, with clear indications from Lord Wilson of the likely limits of her claim in view of the facts of this case. If she had pursued her financial claims at the time of separation, there would likely have been a capital clean break at that point and no ability to come back and claim more now. It seems unlikely that she will be able to sustain a needs-based claim. She is more likely to succeed on the basis of her contributions through caring for the children after the marriage breakdown, but her delay in bringing a claim may well dictate otherwise.”

“We are rightly proud of the broad discretion which the family courts have in England and Wales and the ability to tailor outcomes to families. However, critics would say that we need to inject a greater degree of certainty into outcomes in family cases, and in doing so reduce the extent and cost of litigation associated with the broad discretion we have”.