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Gone With the Wind - Beware the Spouse that Comes Back to Bite

on Friday, 15 July 2016.

There has been a recent update to one of the longest-running romance and divorce cases seen by the courts, which has all the ingredients of a classic rags-to-riches tale.

Young sweethearts Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt met early in life when they did not have a penny between them. They married in the early 1980s and lived off state benefits. Ms Wyatt had a child from a previous relationship and the couple also had a child together. At that point, no one could have predicted that Mr Vince would go on to become an eco-warrior multi-millionaire.

However, before Mr Vince embarked upon his business success, the couple separated, a little after two years of marriage and their divorce was finalised much later in 1992. Crucially, the couple did not take the trouble when they divorced to agree a formal Consent Order on their financial settlement, dismissing any financial claims against one another.

Fast forward to the late 1990s and Mr Vince's green energy wind farm business had really taken off. His company, Ecotricity, was said to be worth at least £57 million. Mrs Wyatt, on the other hand had enjoyed no such similar rise to riches; she lived in a former council house and was still on state benefits as her earnings were so low. She had two more children by this time but had not re-married.

The Court Applications

In 2011, nearly twenty years after their divorce, Ms Wyatt applied to Court for financial provision from her ex-husband. After applications and appeals being made on both sides, for technical reasons, Ms Wyatt's case was sent back to the High Court by the Supreme Court to decide matters.

The Outcome

We will never know what the High Court would have ordered, as Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince recently reached their own out-of-court settlement whilst awaiting the High Court hearing. In a judgment dated 10 June 2016, Mr Justice Cobb confirmed that the final order settling the proceedings should be made public.

The long-overdue Consent Order provided for Mrs Wyatt to receive a lump sum of £300,000 in full and final settlement of her claims, in addition to payments she had received for costs.

Risks of Divorcing without an Agreed Financial Settlement

This decision highlights the risks of leaving matters unresolved at the time of separation or divorce. Questions arise as to what the financially weaker party has to lose in bringing an application against a wealthy ex-spouse, especially if their costs are being met.

Likewise, the incentive will be strong for a wealthy spouse, who is paying his or her own legal fees and those of their ex-spouse, to make an offer to settle any impending court proceedings, even if their ex's application is weak, because it is likely to be cheaper than funding litigation through the courts.

This case is a sharp reminder why it is crucial to receive professional advice when separating or divorcing, to ensure that an ex-spouse does not come back to bite years later.

For expert advice in this area, contact Samantha Hickman on 0117 314 5435.

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