Much has been written by lawyers and the press about the case of Vince v Wyatt. It is unusual in many respects, but it started off very ordinarily when the husband and wife married in 1982 and separated in 1984. Their marriage was therefore only around two years of duration. They got divorced in 1992.
It was also very ordinary for that time, and indeed today, that because the couple did not have any assets at the time they divorced they did not enter into an agreement about their finances. This meant that the claims against each other, that the law gives to couples from the date of their marriage, were not dealt with and so stayed alive.
Flash forward to June 2016 – some 32 years after their separation. The husband is now a millionaire businessman, having found success decades after his short marriage. In a recent settlement he has been required to pay the wife over £600,000 in a lump sum payment to her and legal costs after a court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
The reasons for the award to the wife are varied – they relate to what she needed, but also to the role she played bringing up the couple’s child even after she and the husband were separated. However, the crucial point is that she was able even to make a claim in the first place because her ability to do so had not been dismissed back at the time of the divorce.
Opinion is divided about whether this is a fair outcome, and whether it would be replicated in other cases in the future, but the most difficult thing about it from a family lawyer’s point of view is the lack of certainty it provides. The case has been complicated, but the way it can be prevented for future couples is extremely straightforward. Even if there are no assets at the time of divorce – or, more commonly, if a couple is able to reach an agreement easily and divide assets without a court’s intervention - it is imperative that a financial agreement is still approved by a court. This would result in them formally giving up their rights to make a claim against the other’s future assets or income. This is easy and inexpensive and means that every divorcee has peace of mind.
Please get in touch with Emma Baillie, head of the Family Finance team, if you would like to discuss your circumstances.