A former hippy turned multi-millionaire green energy tycoon today faces having to make a payment to his former wife 23 years after they divorced.
In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court backed the right of Dale Vince’s ex to part of the £110 million fortune he earned after they split up.
It has been suggested that the ruling could open floodgates for claims by long-divorced former spouses to seek a share of their former partner’s assets.
Ms Wyatt was able to take legal action because in family law suits, unlike the civil courts, there is no time limit for a former spouse to bring a financial case.
The Court of Appeal ruled last year that her claim should be struck out but now the Supreme Court Justices have reversed that decision.
There will now be a full hearing before a family judge in the High Court, who will decide what financial settlement Mr Vince must pay.
Mr Vince said “We both moved on and started families of our own. For my part the passing of time is extremely prejudicial. It has been so long that there are no records, no court has kept anything and it’s hard to defend yourself in such circumstances. Indeed the delay itself has enabled the claim, because there is no paperwork in existence”
Ms Wyatt hailed the decision as an “important judgment”. Hannah Budd, of London law firm the International Family Law Group, said of the ruling: “For many people this decision will be truly terrifying”
However, lets go back to the beginning. Dale Vince and Kathleen Wyatt married in 1981. Ms Wyatt had a daughter from a previous relationship and she was brought up by Mr Vince. During the marriage Ms Wyatt had a son with Mr Vince.
It is reported that the family lived a hippy lifestyle and had no significant assets between them.
They separated in 1984, Mr Vince continued to live a simply life using an old ambulance for his home. It was during this time that Mr Vince began designing a home styled wind turbine to generate his own electricity which eventually led to him making his fortune. In 1995 Mr Vince founded Ecotricity, the worlds first green energy company. The company is reported to be worth in the region of 57 million.
After the separation there were divorce proceedings. At this time there were still no significant assets and both Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt were in receipt of state benefits. During the divorce proceedings Mr Vince claims that Ms Wyatt made a court application for ancillary relief i.e. financial settlement which was dismissed. However, the court holds no evidence of this and the only surviving document is their decree absolute of divorce dated 26th October 1992. Ms Wyatt says that she raised the children without any financial support from Mr Vince.
In the absence of evidence that financial claims during the divorce proceedings were dismissed the court recognised that they still exist. Therefore in theory Ms Wyatt is still able to make a claim for a financial settlement from Mr Vince.
The Supreme Court has decided that Ms Wyatt is able to make a financial claim against Mr Vince because there is no evidence of a financial order being sought. Ms Wyatt has not remarried so her claim for maintenance remains active.
This case has grabbed the headlines because of Mr Vince’s rags-to-riches story. From the defendant’s point of view, this is a classic example of the dangers of not entering into a court-approved financial settlement when you divorce. If you don’t have this type of settlement, then you are always open to future claims from your ex-spouse.
Is it unfair that Mr Vince should hand over part of his fortune which was built up after the divorce was finalised so many years ago? That’s a decision for the courts to make.
This is a cautionary tale and highlights the importance of ensuring you seek professional advice regarding financial settlement matters. If a Clean Break Order had been found to have been made this would have prevented Ms Wyatt from making any claim however much money he had in the future.
Take the opportunity to have a fixed free interview with Sally Kingsbury our Matrimonial Expert for as little as £95.00 plus VAT and find out your rights before it’s too late.