I’m divorced, that’s it, right?
20 June 2018
There is a common misconception that once in possession of a decree absolute (the final decree dissolving a marriage), your divorce is done and dusted and you and your ex-spouse can walk off into the sunset, in opposite directions, never to see or hear from each other again.
In fact, unless you have a decree absolute and a sealed financial order (i.e. an order approved by the court), you may be leaving yourself open to financial claims from your ex-spouse many years later. Few people understand that the divorce suit and the resolution of financial claims arising from a divorce are two distinct processes, the latter often not being dealt with at the time of the divorce.
In Wyatt v Vince (a 2015 reported case where Schillings represented the husband), the couple married in 1981 and divorced over a decade later when neither of the parties had any substantial assets to their names. Although a decree absolute was obtained, neither party gave thought to any financial claims. Mr Vince went on to make millions from his green energy company and in 2011, his ex-wife, whose financial position conversely, had not prospered, initiated an application for financial relief.
Mr Vince cross-applied for the application to be struck out. The first instance judge allowed Ms Wyatt’s application, a decision which the Court of Appeal subsequently reversed. Ms Wyatt then appealed to the Supreme Court, whose unanimous decision allowed Ms Wyatt’s application and makes clear that there is no time limit in which to bring one’s financial claims arising on a divorce.
In the recent 2018 case of A v B, an ex-wife’s application for her ex-husband’s financial claims to be struck out was rejected. Although the couple had divorced in 1992, the ex-husband only raised his financial claims 24 years later. A v B is distinguishable from Wyatt v Vince; whilst Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt had no ongoing financial relationship after their divorce, in A v B, the ex-wife financially supported her ex-husband for the duration of their 24 year separation, despite the fact that both parties had gone on to form new relationships and remarry. Following the rejection of the ex-wife’s strike out application, the substantive case will now have to be determined.
In comparison to Mr Vince’s wealth, Ms Wyatt’s financial award was relatively small, but given the ongoing financial relationship in A v B, we will watch with much interest to see how the ex-husband’s financial claims are resolved.
Given the potential complications of dealing with financial claims decades after a divorce, it is critical that these claims are resolved at the same time as a divorce. Even if no financial claims are being pursued by either party, a dismissal of those claims still needs to be recorded in an order approved by the court. No matter how straightforward a divorce appears, it is always prudent to seek legal advice. What is clear is that no one would envy Mr Vince or Mrs B’s positions years after they thought their decree absolute was the final word on their failed marriages.
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