Resolution call for law reform following landmark divorce case

Published: 24th March 2015

National family law organisation Resolution have called for reforms to financial provisions in divorce following the Supreme Courts' decision on a landmark court case.

The case in question was that of Wyatt v Vince, with Ms Kathleen Wyatt taking legal action and making a financial claim against former husband Dale Vince more than 20 years after their divorce. The couple met when they were students in their mid-20s and were married in 1981, living the lifestyle of penniless new age travellers up until their divorce in 1995. Soon after the split, Mr Vince set up green energy firm Ecotricity and today is worth an estimated £107 million.

On 11th March 2015, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the case should be escalated to the Family Division of the High Court as her claim was "legally recognisable" and not an "abuse of process" and that Ms Wyatt has had to raise the couples only son through "16 years of real hardship".

In the Resolution Manifesto for Family Law, Resolution call for reforms to Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 so that greater clarity is introduced to help people understand the level and timescales for payment of maintenance where children are concerned and they want to see divorcing couples reach financial independence far sooner than the current law allows.

They believe that this case further highlights the need for reform surrounding finances in divorce, with chair Jo Edwards releasing the following statement:

"The Supreme Court has made it clear that the draconian power to strike out family proceedings simply does not exist, but stress that the court will consider the merits of such applications on a case by case basis."

"If Ms Wyatt had lost her appeal, Resolution was concerned that people without access to legal advice as a result of the legal aid cuts would have been at risk of having their applications struck out without proper consideration simply because of delay, along arbitrary lines."

"But it’s also important that people who have become wealthy over time are not exposed to potentially opportunistic claims many years after a marriage has broken down. We want to see reform of the law around financial provision on divorce. Part of that is a desire for greater clarity and a clearer intention to get couples to financial independence sooner."

"It will be interesting to see how the court now approaches Ms Wyatt’s substantive claim, with clear indications from Lord Wilson of the likely limits of her claim in view of the facts of this case. If she had pursued her financial claims at the time of separation, there would likely have been a capital clean break at that point and no ability to come back and claim more now. It seems unlikely that she will be able to sustain a needs-based claim. She is more likely to succeed on the basis of her contributions through caring for the children after the marriage breakdown, but her delay in bringing a claim may well dictate otherwise."

"We are rightly proud of the broad discretion which the family courts have in England and Wales and the ability to tailor outcomes to families. However, critics would say that we need to inject a greater degree of certainty into outcomes in family cases, and in doing so reduce the extent and cost of litigation associated with the broad discretion we have".

K J Smith Solicitors are specialists in family law and have many years of experience in dealing with financial matters relating to separation, divorce and the dissolution of Civil Partnerships. To discuss your financial situation and to see how we can help, contact our team today for a free 45 minute consultation on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor) or 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) or email info@kjsmith.co.uk

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