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Vince v Wyatt case shows consent orders are essential

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vince v wyatt - importance of consent orders.

Divorce does not bring an end to any financial claims between a married couple – as has been amply demonstrated in the recently reported case of Vince v Wyatt.

As family lawyers we speak almost daily to clients who believe that “divorce proceedings” means bringing an end to a marriage, dealing with the arrangements for the children and separating the financial ties they have with their former spouse. Whilst the divorce itself does bring an end to the marriage and does mean that either party is free to remarry if they wish, it does not bring an automatic end to any financial obligations they have to each other.

Divorce is not the end

If you’ve seen the news in the last 24 hours you can’t have failed to hear about the case of Vince v Wyatt which has brought this issue to public attention.

In this case the parties were divorced over 20 years ago but at that time never reached a formal agreement (normally embodied in a consent order) resolving financial issues between them. Mr Vince, at the time of divorce is reported to have had no assets, limited income and been living in a disused ambulance. Roll forward twenty years and having founded the green energy company Ecotricity he is now a multi-millionaire with an OBE. 

His ex-wife, Mrs Wyatt, has now made an application to the court seeking permission to claim against Mr Vince’s assets reported to be in excess of £107m. Five Supreme Court Judges have ruled that Mrs Wyatt, even 20 years after they divorced, has the legal right to proceed with her application for financial support and/or a share of Mr Vince’s capital assets. Lord Wilson is reported to have said her claim was "legally recognisable" and not an "abuse of process". Whether Mrs Wyatt will be successful in her claim is yet unknown but lengthy court proceedings are now likely to take place which will be stressful and costly to both parties.

The important thing for divorcing couples to note is that this judgement indicates there’s ‘no limitation period in respect of financial remedies following divorce’. And this might have an impact for other couples in a similar situation.

Always, always get a consent order

This case highlights how important it is for couples who divorce to consider finances and where possible obtain an Order from the court at the time of the divorce itself. 

In many cases the Order can be obtained by consent and on paper rather than the parties needing to be engaged in lengthy or costly court proceedings. The parties can be assisted by solicitors to negotiate a settlement that is fair and reasonable and this can be recorded in a consent order, signed by them both and submitted to the court for approval of a Judge. Even if the parties have no assets to speak of at the time of divorce it is important to have a Consent Order to protect future assets, as I am sure Mr Vince has now been told.

Ask your divorce lawyer about a clean break

A financial Order approved by the courts can bring about a clean break meaning neither party can make any further financial claims against the other in the future or upon the other’s death, thereby protecting any further assets that may be earned, inherited or of course that greatly hoped for lottery win.

Unlike the divorce petition these Orders are not standard forms and do need to be drafted from scratch setting out the particular circumstances of the individual case. As a family lawyer I have prepared many of these agreements from very straight forward ones where there are no assets but ensuring there is a clean break, to very complex orders dealing with multiple properties, savings, assets or family businesses. My advice would be to always discuss with your divorce lawyer the effect of financial claims not only now but also in the future and ask your lawyer to prepare an Order in your case including, wherever possible, a clean break.

Abby Smith
Divorce & family lawyer St Neots

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