Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince the "green tycoon' have been locked in a court battle that has gone through three layers of court and has taken place 30 years after they split. Why the delay?
They had two children and separated in 1984. To support them, Mrs Vince sacrificed her ability to devote herself to a career. She has lived in council accommodation (which she recently bought under the Right to Buy scheme), and struggled while Mr Dale built a large fortune out of green electricity. Mrs Wyatt's attempts with her husband over the years to seek financial redress were rebuffed by him at each turn.
Mr Vince, who divorced his wife in 1992, forgot to sign off the financial claims against his wife. Had he taken that simple step, which is a different document from the divorce papers they obtained, she would have not got her claims off the ground.
The Supreme Court has reminded us that in this very private area of family law, there is no statute of limitations. You can bring a claim, in the right case, very many years after the separation. This was the right case.
It looks cock-eyed to the readers of the judgment, that as reported, this ex-wife can claim 30 years after the separation. The reality is they had two children for which they were responsible. If you don't limit your risks at the time of divorce, which this (either badly advised or foolhardy husband failed to do), you can expect your spouse to make further claims particularly where you have had children. Matters weren’t helped here by the fact that no original court papers existed after all this time. The court assumed though, luckily for Ms Wyatt, that Mr Vince had not signed off financial claims with his wife.
To limit those future risks, one piece of paper finalising claims is all that is needed – and remember to keep a copy.
Will this lead to the predicted flood of claims? Definitely not. The facts of this case were entirely unusual and what make the job of family lawyers and judges infinitely varied and interesting. It will be a long time before a budding entrepreneur is as laid back or ill-advised, or just plain unlucky as this husband/father about their legal paperwork. The rather obvious advice we give to entrepreneur clients is sign now before you make any more serious money.
William Healing is a partner at Kingsley NapleyReuse content