In a recent case (Vince v Wyatt), a former traveller, whom at the time of his divorce was on state benefits, had the unwelcome news that his ex wife was seeking a share of his multi-million pound fortune 20 years after they had divorced.
After they separated in 1984, he had set up an eco-green telephone system which became popular at Glastonbury and his company Ecotricity Ltd. subsequently expanded to be worth £90 million pounds. His ex wife sought a share of this and via an initial application at the High Court sought payment from him in advance for her legal fees at £150,000.
Her ex-husband went to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal agreed that this was an abuse of process. That the ex-husband had no prospect of winning his payment for her legal fees back even if he had won on the claim she made against him. The ex-wife, was still on benefits and her life had remained one of poverty.
Unlike civil proceedings where there is statutory limitations limiting claims to 6 years, in matrimonial finances there is no long stop date. However, the Court of Appeal pointed out that the court will not consider flimsy and unmeritorious claims. The parties have made a mistake of not obtaining a Consent Order upon divorce and finalising their claims, however the length of delay since the divorce was so extreme that the court held that it was unreasonable and unlikely that the wife could succeed on making her claim against her husband.
This case highlights the situation that if your finances are to improve in the future, you do risk your ex-spouse coming back for a share if you do not have a clean break Consent Order upon divorce. The ex-husband succeeded in having the ex-wife’s claim strike out however, he still had substantial legal costs to get to that stage; and the stress of going to court and facing the risk of potentially losing half his fortunate was an unwanted stress. His solicitor stated that her client had been put in an impossible position.
It is therefore important to get a clean break Consent Order upon divorce if you and your partner have no assets or substantial earning capacity in order to remove the possibility of the above scenario. If you have assets and a reasonable income the chances of your ex-spouse making an application to court at a future date and succeeding is considerably higher. It is therefore even more important to ensure that matters are finalised upon divorce. Many people consider this to be unnecessary as they are not interested in their ex-spouses and have no interest in their money, however people change so circumstances change, and the costs of dealing with the matter later are far worse than dealing with it at the appropriate time.