Divorce, finances and the Supreme Court

This week, a decision by the UK Supreme Court made headlines nationwide. The BBC, ITV and Sky News all featured the case on their programming, as did local radio stations throughout the country. It was also picked up by both online and print publications.

It’s not every day that a divorce ruling causes such a wave of interest. A massive number of media outlets asked me to comment on the case, which I was more than happy to do but it was impossible to do them all although I had a very good go!

Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law

So from a small studio at BBC Radio Leeds which turned into a temporary HQ, I gave a total of 15 interviews, including the Nicky Campbell Show on BBC Radio Five Live, the Mark Forrest Show across the national BBC Network, You and Yours on BBC Radio Four and my favourite radio show, the Simon Mayo Drivetime Show on BBC Radio 2 with Rebecca Pike last night.

It did not stop there. Today, after a terrible early morning journey across the dreaded M62 Motorway from Yorkshire to Media City, I appeared on BBC Breakfast. I’m delighted to say, it was well worth the trip! My colleague Paul Read in our London office helped me out fantastically with the media deluge, appearing on Sky News, ITN News and ITV’s This Morning. I am very grateful to him. He was brilliant.

In addition we made the print media literally across the world.

So what was all the fuss about?

As we reported here, the Supreme Court reinstated the financial claim made by the former wife of a green energy tycoon. What made this case particularly interesting is that the decision came a couple of decades after the couple’s divorce.

While the couple was married, they were New Age travellers without income or capital but they did have a son together and a child from the wife’s previous relationship was accepted as a child of the family.  They separated after just over two years.

After their 1992 divorce, in the late 90s when both had new partners and further children to those partners, husband Dale Vince founded Ecotricity. The company supplies energy produced by wind turbines and made Mr Vince a multi-millionaire now reputedly worth over £100million.

Kathleen Wyatt, Mr Vince’s ex-wife, claims that she has continued to struggle financially while trying to raise the children of their family as her ex-husband made his millions. She never received any child support from him. She launched legal proceedings to secure payment from her former husband in 2011, some 27 years after separation and 19 years after the divorce after going through the High Court and the Court of Appeal, who struck it out stating it was an abuse of the process and her claim had no merit.

The case made its way to the highest judicial authority in the country who reinstated it and said she had a valid claim because her contribution to raising the children was a legitimate claim and she had a right to have that claim heard despite the fact that her case is an uphill struggle given the passage of time and the short marriage.

The decision has caused considerable controversy and with all its nuances, it is a perfect case for an exam question as I said on BBC Radio Oxford yesterday! It is unsurprising that it has caught the attention of the national press. However, it is worth noting in particular that although the value of assets is taken into account as at the date of separation or divorce, there is no statute of limitations for these kinds of cases and assets are valued up to the date of hearing. 

Whilst this case is extraordinary on its facts, if you are worried about being caught in a similar situation, it is essential to make sure there is a financial order in place.

While that may sound straight forward, do not forget that legal aid for family law financial cases has been abolished. It is still possible for mediation but, as I pointed out, a lot of people are divorcing without the expert help of a solicitor. As a result, they may not consider that there are all kinds of unexpected events which could have a major financial impact on their lives in the future. Claims are never extinguished until the court makes its order.  A death in the family. A lottery win. So a mediated settlement still needs converting into a court order, as does any agreement informally reached with your spouse. If you do not have closure, changed circumstances could still come back to haunt you in the form of an unwelcome and potentially expensive financial claim from your former spouse.

You can listen to the full conversation on the Simon Mayo Drivetime Show here. My segment begins at 26:31.

Marilyn Stowe

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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Pete - March 12, 2015 at 11:48pm

This brings some questions to mind such as
!, When did the CSA start ?
2, Why did she not go to the CSA ?
3,What happened to the level playing field at the time of the divorce?
4, If he was represented by a solicitor, why did the solicitor not ensure there was closure at the time?
6, Can someone sue their solicitor for incompetence for not ensuring that there was closure?
7,What took her so long to go back to court? ( Did face book have anything to do with it?)
8, Can compulsory drug testing be brought in for all those that work in the legal profession ?
i.e. Judges

Dan P - March 13, 2015 at 8:30am

Thanks for a clear and eloquent blog post, great synopsis. Oh and well done on the publicity/media side!

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