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The importance of a clean break

Financial proceedings are stressful for couples who have separated although a recent Supreme Court judgment has highlighted the importance of obtaining a clean break.

The recent decision of the Supreme Court in Wyatt v Vince [2015] UKSC 14 has highlighted the importance of obtaining a clean break.

The background to this case was that the Appellant, Ms Wyatt (“wife”) and the Respondent, Mr Vince (“husband”), were married in 1981. There was one child of the marriage, although the wife also had a young daughter from a previous relationship who was treated as a child of the family. The parties separated in 1984 and for the next 8 years the husband embarked on a travelling lifestyle. The wife continued to bring up both children in a low standard of living. The husband was not in a position to be able to pay maintenance to the wife for the care of the children.

Divorce proceedings were commenced and the Decree Absolute was granted in 1992. The wife entered into a new relationship, although did not marry and had two more children. The husband had started to develop a green energy business in the late 1990’s which later became extremely successful and has been valued at £57 million.

In 2011 the wife issued an application to the Court for the husband to pay a lump sum to her, plus interim periodical payments to fund her legal fees. The husband had applied for her application to be struck out. The original Divorce Petition had been misplaced and in its absence, the Court had to assume that the wife had originally applied for financial orders. In 2012 the Court dismissed the husband’s cross application and ordered that he pay £125,000 in monthly instalments to the wife’s solicitors. The husband appealed and the Court of Appeal subsequently set aside the original Court’s decision. The wife’s application was struck out at this stage and the wife was ordered to repay part of the money she had received under the original Court’s decision. The wife thereafter appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court considered the Court of Appeal’s application of whether the wife’s application had no reasonable prospects of success, or whether it was an abuse of process. The Supreme Court noted that where a financial Order has been applied for by an ex-spouse, the Court is to consider their application having regard to all the circumstances, as detailed in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

The Supreme Court has now allowed the wife appeal and directed that her original application is to proceed in the High Court. The Supreme Court has also set aside the Court of Appeal’s Order that the wife was to repay part of the money.

Despite the short length of the marriage and long delay for the wife to bring her application, the Supreme Court noted that the application was legally recognisable and was not an abuse of process and therefore the wife’s application was successful.

The wife’s application for financial Orders will be considered by the High Court and could potentially result in the husband having to make payments to the wife some 23 years after divorcing.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Beverley Jones

Partner - Head of Family Department (Liverpool)

Heading the family team in Liverpool, I am a family and matrimonial expert who deals with all aspects of family law.