The case underlines the need to always obtain final settlement orders with respect to financial claims arising from the marriage.
The case involves an application by Mrs Wyatt (the “Wife”) for a financial order against her ex-husband Mr Vince (the “Husband”). The parties were married in 1982, they separated in 1984 having had one child together. During the marriage, their standard of living had not been high, living mainly on state benefits. For many years after the end of their relationship both parties continued to live a frugal life with minimal income and very few assets. However, in the mid-1990’s the Husband founded a multi-million pound company in respect of which the Wife made no contribution. The parties did not divorce until 1992 and did not finalise any financial claims they had against each other, as provided for in Law. In 2011, over 18 years after their divorce and 27 years after they separated, the Wife brought a claim against the Husband for financial support which she quantified at £1.9 million.
When the case came before the Court of Appeal, the Husband successfully applied to have the Wife’s claim against him struck out stating that there were no reasonable grounds for bringing it. The Wife then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal and made it clear that a matrimonial financial relief claim provided for in the Law will not be barred by the passage of time, even if the divorce happened 20 years ago. The Court found that the power to strike out an application only extends to whether it discloses no reasonable grounds or where it amounts to an abuse of process, and decided that neither applied in this particular case.
The Supreme Court has warned the Wife that although her claim for a financial order will be heard and determined, it is likely that she will face considerable difficulties in quantifying her claim for a significant capital sum, and certainly the £1.9 million she proposed, not least given the short duration of the marriage and the substantial delay of bringing her claim.
Whilst this case was decided by the Supreme Court of England and Wales and is yet to be tested in the Jersey Courts, it highlights the importance of dealing with all the financial aspects of the marriage as part of the divorce, even if the parties have limited assets or income at the time. Failing to do so leaves claims remaining under the Law, and may leave one party open to the risk of facing future applications for claims not addressed at the time of the divorce, even many years later, which may be allowed by the Court, and which may succeed.
Natalie Jenner | Partner | Divorce and Family law
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