An ex-wife has been given permission by the Supreme Court to apply to court for a lump sum from her ex. The Supreme Court ruling doesn’t mean the ex wife will get any money — it just means she has permission to apply to the court for a lump sum. What does it mean for other divorced couples?
Q. Does this mean ex-wives (or husbands) can ask their ex-husband (or wife) to pay up years after a divorce?
A. No, it doesn’t necessarily mean that at all. The background to this case is that the ex-wife, Kathleen Wyatt, was married to Dale Vince in the 1980s (they separated in 1984 but didn’t get divorced until 1992). They had a son who lived with his mother until 2001.
This ruling from the Supreme Court only gives Kathleen Wyatt permission to go to court to ask for money from her ex husband Dale Vince. Jo Edwards, a family lawyer who is chair of Resolution, the family lawyer’s association for England and Wales, says Kathleen Wyatt could get nothing at all: “In monopoly speak, she has just got past the word ‘go’ on the board, but she’s not been awarded any money and it’s possible she may not get anything at all.” She adds that we’ll only know how significant it is when we know how much money – if anything – Kathleen Wyatt is awarded.
Reading the ruling, the reason it seems that the five Supreme Court justices say that Kathleen Wyatt should not have her application for a sum of money via the courts ‘struck out’ is that:
1) there’s no evidence that when the couple divorced that all future financial claims were ‘dismissed’ (I’ll explain this below) and
2) Kathleen brought up the couple’s son in what are described as ‘straitened’ financial circumstances and Dale Vince wasn’t in position to make ‘any substantial financial provision’ for their son or for Kathleen Wyatt’s daughter from a previous relationship, who was treated as a child of the family.
SAVVY TIP: Normally, in England or Wales, when a couple gets divorced, a ‘consent order’ or court order is drawn up. A consent order turns what’s been agreed between a couple into a legally binding agreement. A court order is issued by the court. These should include a ‘clean break’ clause which says that what’s been agreed or ordered by the court is a final settlement and one or other partner can’t then go back years later and make another claim for more money. This doesn’t automatically happen, but solicitors would generally draw one up. If you use an online divorce lawyer, they may offer a consent order as a separate service.
David Allison, SavvyWoman’s divorce expert and a partner at law firm Family Law in Partnership said that the ruling was less significant than media coverage might lead you to believe. “It’s the law as we always knew it to be, which says that until there’s a clean break in place and there’s a document saying couples can no longer bring a claim against each other, you have the right to do this. However, the longer between the end of the marriage and bringing the claim, the less likely it is that you will get any money.”
Q. Why can someone go back to the courts years after the divorce?
A. In Kathleen Wyatt’s case, the reason why she has been able to apply to the courts for a lump sum is that there’s no evidence that any future financial claims were dismissed by a court order when they got divorced.
The Supreme Court justices think that the most likely explanation is that the finances weren’t considered or that the court made an order saying that Dale Vince didn’t have to make any payments to his ex wife at the time (because he didn’t have the means to do so, not because he shouldn’t).
The county court where she and Dale Vince got divorced appears to have lost the paperwork and she and her ex husband didn’t keep any paperwork relating to what was decided about the finances. If there had been evidence that they’d agreed how to divide their finances at the time and had agreed not to make any further claim against each other, Kathleen Wyatt wouldn’t have been able to go to court.
Q. Why would Kathleen Wyatt get any money when she and Dale Vince were only married for a couple of years?
A. The main reason is that Ms Wyatt brought up their son for 16 years in very difficult financial circumstances with very little support from her ex husband. She also says (although Dale Vince disputes this) that she either applied or started university courses three times but was unable to keep up her studies because she had to look after her children.
This isn’t the first time that she considered going to the courts for financial support. Kathleen Wyatt says she consulted solicitors in 1994 and 1996 to get maintenance for herself and her children.
Q. What does this mean for other couples?
A. This doesn’t mean that Kathleen Wyatt (or any other ex wife) will be able to get a ‘meal ticket for life’ from an ex husband they divorced years ago.
The Supreme Court ruling doesn’t guarantee that Kathleen Wyatt will be awarded any of her ex husband’s money. It only gives her permission to apply to the courts for some money.
SAVVY TIP: Although there’s no guarantee that Kathleen Wyatt will get any money, it does show how important it is to sort out the finances and not just think you’ll leave that until later, and, make sure you get a consent order with a clean break clause if you and your ex agree how to divide the money and property.
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