This is making headlines across all the newspapers and is being fiercely debated on chat shows this morning as it's causing shock waves around the country. Kathleen Wyatt has won the right to argue her claim to £1.9million a whopping 23 years after she divorced her ex-husband Dale Vince. This will no doubt cause the flood gates to open to thousands of divorced couples attempting to renegotiate their financial arrangements. Family law firms must be rubbing their hands together with glee.
As always there are two sides to this story so let's look at the facts.
• Ms Wyatt married Dale Vince when they were penniless hippy travellers in 1981
• They had a son but separated after three years of marriage and divorced in 1992
• Ms Wyatt has cared for their son since they split
• In 1995 Dale Vince set up a business which has enabled him to amass a £107million fortune
• The couple never reached a financial settlement
The key fact here I think is the last bullet point - they never reached a financial agreement. If you have been to court or have a court ordered agreement then it would appear this new ruling would not apply to you.
However if the financial situation has never been finalised this ruling may set the precedent to have a claim on your ex's future wealth. A truly terrifying thought for many divorcees I am sure.
Is it fair? Well yes if they did not finalise their financial arrangements at the time of the divorce they have left themselves open to future debate. It is a clear warning to those getting divorced now and in the future to firmly bolt the financial gate behind them. The law is not emotional as anyone who has been through the family courts will know well. The facts are the facts and the law is the law. An emotional plea that is not fair is not enough as Mr Vince has found out to his detriment. If no agreement has been made then you run the risk of future claims.
It is understandable that it may cause Ms Wyatt some distress to see her former husband living a life of luxury in his 18th century fort with his new family, whilst she has reportedly been sleeping in bus stations in order to make her court appearances.
It is also hard to comprehend how Mr Vince can stand to see his former wife living in such poverty and has not offered her some of his vast fortune to make her life more bearable considering they do have a child together. Even if he did not legally have to do it, it would make little difference to his lifestyle to offer her a one-off capped financial payment.
Twenty-three years on the couple have completely separate lives and children with new partners. In cases where couples have had a clean break and have moved on with their lives then it would seem incomprehensible that either one would be able to make a claim in the future if one of them made a fortune from new ventures or even winning the lottery. The nature of divorce is to sever all ties and start afresh. However the point in this case is that they did not finalise the financials so that clean break was never completely made.
In my opinion if a couple decide to divorce then they have also decided to go their separate ways in life, especially if the break-up is not amicable. The divorce settlement should be final to enable them to move forward with their lives separately and with peace of mind that everything is finalised.
There should be severe penalties for not sticking to agreed financial arrangements and I am a supporter of the proposals put forward recently by the Law Commission to deter ex partners from non-payment including driving bans, travel bans and even court enforced curfews. But once those agreements are made, unless new information comes to light that proves that the agreement was not made fairly, the divorcees should not have rights to claim any further compensation.
There is a clear lesson to be learnt here - finalise your financial arrangements at the time of your divorce as it could come back to bite you if you don't.