When are you off the hook? Financial claims can still be made years after Divorce proceedings.
Many people may be lulled into a false sense of security after they obtain a Divorce from their spouse. Few realise that unless divorcing parties obtain a Financial Order from the Court, financial claims remain open against them. For that reason, it is crucial that all divorcing couples, whatever the extent of their assets, apply for a Financial Order - either by consent, or through Financial Relief proceedings.
The cautionary tale of the case of Wyatt v Vince demonstrates the huge risks involved in not obtaining a Financial Order at the point of divorce. Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince divorced in 1992 when both parties had modest assets. A Decree Absolute was granted on 26 October 1992, but no Financial Order was sought. Ms Wyatt’s claims against Mr Vince remained open. For a number of years after the Divorce, Mr Vince lived a traveller lifestyle whilst dabbling with a start-up energy business. In the late 1990s, Mr Vince’s green energy business took off and he became a multi-millionaire. In 2011, some 19 years after the parties had divorced, Ms Wyatt applied for financial provision from Mr Vince.
Despite Mr Vince applying for Ms Wyatt’s application to be struck out, after appeal, the Supreme Court upheld Ms Wyatt’s application for financial relief and the case proceeded through the Family Courts.
The case of Vince v Wyatt is so important as it demonstrates the two important stages divorcing couples must resolve when their marriage is at an end: the divorce process itself, and the resolution of their financial claims. Even if the couple agree between themselves that they will not make a financial claims against each other, this should be enshrined in a Court Order. Otherwise, one party could still apply for financial provision at a later date.
There may be circumstances where a Court will refuse to entertain an application for Financial Relief made after a significantly long period of time since Divorce. In the case of A v B (No 2)  EWFC 45, the Court allowed an abbreviated (shortened) hearing to consider an application made by the husband (A) for Financial Relief 26 years after the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi. The Judge at the hearing concluded in this case that the application be dismissed. This was partly due to the Court having found that the parties had come to an agreement when separating and both parties were found to have acted in accordance with that agreement, with A receiving substantial provision from the wife (B). Whilst this may be an encouraging result for those couples who have divorced but not obtained a Financial Order, there are still significant risks in leaving financial claims open. The Court has a wide discretion in determining these cases and each case will be considered on its own individual facts. For this reason, it is vitally important that claims are closed at the point of divorce so that both parties know for certain that they will not be pursued in the future for financial provision.
If you would like any further advice regarding this, or any other, family law issue please contact a member of our specialist Family Law Team.