Last March, Kathleen Wyatt, won the right to pursue her claim of £1.9 million in maintenance, against her ex-husband Dale Vince, the founder of the green energy company Ecotricity, almost 25 years after their divorce.
The Supreme Court ruling has led to some speculation about the divorce courts being flooded with spouses looking to claim back maintenance from their ex years after their divorce. Such a scenario is highly unlikely.
Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince were married for about two years. Wyatt had a son from a previous relationship who was welcomed into their new family. She also had a son with Vince (now 31), who currently works with his father. Wyatt went on to have two more children after her divorce from Vince in 1992.
After their divorce, Wyatt was left to bring up the children without any contribution from Vince, who has since claimed that he didn’t have any money to give her while the kids were children, and that by retrospectively making a claim, she was ‘cashing in on an old lottery ticket.’
Kathleen Wyatt lives on benefits in a former council house and Lord Wilson, one of the justices in the ruling acknowledged that she had ‘16 years of real hardship for her and her family. At times they lived in caravans. They moved home frequently. They lived from hand to mouth.’
Lord Wilson also warned Kathleen Wyatt that she faced several difficulties. The first is in establishing any financial claims as she was married for less than three years. And at almost £2 million, Lord Wilson felt she had pitched her maintenance claim too high. Second, she faced difficulties because of the time that has passed since her divorce to Dale Vince.
He did however agree that there was the prospect that she would receive a fair sum that would enable her to live in a mortgage-free home.
Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince’s case has highlighted the key emotional and financial aspects of family law – namely, the role of the primary contributor to the welfare of the family, which in this case is Kathleen Wyatt.
After his divorce, Vince travelled around for eight years and was not required to pay maintenance, because he had no money. This meant that the burden of taking care of their children fell on Kathleen, a fact which Lord Wilson recognises. He said the court must have regard ‘to the contribution of each party to the welfare of the family, including by looking after the home or caring for the family.
It could also be argued that Dale Vince owes his success in some part to Kathleen Wyatt, as he was able to travel freely and also founded his company Ecotricity, because Wyatt bore the burden of taking care of their children, which subsequently impacted her ability to earn a living and provide a comfortable life for her (their) family.
Do spouses have the right to ‘cash in’ years after divorce?
In a word, no. Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince’s case is an exceptional one. It made the headlines because after multiple attempts (via the High Court and the Court of Appeal) to bring her case to the family court, the Supreme Court finally ruled that Wyatt could bring her case to the family court.
It has been a long road for Wyatt who lodged her first claim in 2011. It remains to be seen how her case will fare in the family courts, but one thing is clear: this is one case that many spouses and legal practitioners will be anxious to see the end result.
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