You may have heard on the news in March, a case decided in the Supreme Court which allowed a wife to bring a financial claim against her ex-husband 27 years after the breakdown of their marriage and 19 years after the actual divorce.
I think the first response to this news was ‘What a crazy decision!’
It is true to say that the circumstances of the case were not exactly run of the mill, so does that mean that there could now be many cases brought by ex-wives (or ex-husbands) claiming financial support years after their divorce was made final?
The interesting facts of this case are; that it was not a very long relationship, the parties meeting in 1981, married in 1982, they had one child together and the wife had another child who was treated as a child of the family - this essentially means that the husband was responsible to support the child. The couple separated in 1984. They had lived on the breadline and when he left, the husband had no money to pay for child maintenance. The wife continued to live on benefits bringing the children up as best she could. The wife brought a petition and ended the marriage in 1992.
However, the husband during the 1990’s made and erected a wind powered phone service for use of festival goers at Glastonbury. This was the beginning of his very successful business which was worth approx. £236k in 1997 and is now worth over £100 million. Unfortunately he still did not make any payments for the children.
In 2011 the wife started her proceedings for financial relief.
Normally during the course of the divorce we share information about the parties’ finances and look to agree a settlement that is fair to both sides and particularly that provides for the children. At this point we obtain an agreed order sanctioned by the court. This is often referred to as a clean break order. But if there is little income or assets to share, families are tempted to do nothing further after the decree absolute.
This new case shows that there is a real risk in not finalising the financial position by court order because…… going back to the case…..the Supreme court said Ms Wyatt must have the opportunity of placing the full facts of her case before the court even though so much time had passed. The court said that this permission, to allow the wife to go ahead, was consistent “with the potentially life long obligations which attend a marriage”.
The husband should have protected himself by getting a clean break at the time of divorce when they both had no assets to share.
Our response is to provide protection for the client and help the parties achieve the best settlement for them both. Taking into account if necessary the potential of either party to ‘make good’ in the future.
The moral of the story- make sure you take a solicitors advice and bring a complete end to the financial obligations on divorce.
This article aims to supply general information but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that any law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek specific advice.
Capron & Helliwell Solicitors offer a range of legal services at the firm’s Stalham and Wroxham offices near North Walsham and Norwich in Norfolk. The firm specialises in areas including family law, conveyancing and private client law including wills and probate. Capron & Helliwell Solicitors offer free family law clinics – please call 01692 581231 for further details or to make an appointment.