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Revisiting Divorce Settlements

16.08.2013

There is often confusion over the difference between obtaining a divorce and a settlement resolving financial issues following the collapse of a marriage. Dale Vince, new aged traveller turned eco-millionaire and CEO of Ecotricity, quickly learnt this fact when, in December 2010, his ex-wife, Kathleen Wyatt, from whom he had separated in 1984 after only three years of marriage, sought to revisit their financial divorce settlements. Their decree of divorce, which signified the termination of their marriage, was pronounced in 1992, however the couple’s failure to agree to a financial settlement meant that the financial side of the divorce remained live and was not effectively concluded until May this year.

At the time of the divorce, both parties held few assets, were living in poor accommodation and mainly surviving off state benefits; consequently, neither Mr Vince nor Mrs Wyatt saw the need to resolve the division of finances due to their scarcity of property or income. Since the couple concluded their divorce without dismissing their respective claims for financial relief, which can include the transferal of property, lump sum orders, pension sharing or spousal maintenance, their claims remained open. Thus, the lack of settlement meant that, in law, Mrs Wyatt was perfectly entitled to appeal for a share in Mr Vince’s wealth despite the fact that it had been accumulated over the 20 years since their marriage had ended.

There remains to date no specific ruling for how long a party has to come to court with their claim for financial relief following divorce. In this instance, due to the excessively long time period from break-up to appeal, and since there was no connection between what had happened during the marriage and Mr Vince’s subsequent wealth and development of his company, now worth £90m, the Court of Appeal Judge ruled in favour of Mr Vince and considered Mrs Wyatt’s attempts as an abuse of the Court’s process. Nevertheless, should the circumstances had been different, if the marriage had lasted longer, if Mrs Wyatt had applied for financial relief sooner, or had Mr Vince’s wealth been created during the marriage, then the result could have been much different.

The lesson to be drawn from Mr Vince’s case is that, regardless of how minor your assets or income appears, if you are getting divorced or have divorced, financial claims against each other must be settled and not left to chance. In doing so you can prevent your ex-spouse from coming back for more of your capital assets.

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