Case Studies

Wyatt v Vince

The Supreme Court judgment in Wyatt v Vince has caused quite a stir since it was handed down on 11 March 2015. The couple met in 1981 and were married in December that year. Miss Wyatt has a daughter from a previous relationship, who Mr Vince treated as his own. The couple later had a son. The family were of modest means. In 1984, the parties separated and Mr Vince became a traveller. The party divorced in 1992, with decree absolute being granted on 26 October 1992. The court file was then transferred to a different court where it was either destroyed or mislaid. Mr Vince went on to found his green energy company, Ecotricity, in the mid-1990s which was very successful and lead to him becoming a millionaire. During this time, Ms Wyatt struggled to provide for the children and to secure permanent housing.

In 2011, Ms Wyatt made an application for financial orders, in particular for a lump sum of £1.9million, and for a costs allowance order. Mr Vince cross-applied for her application to be struck-out pursuant to Rule 4.4 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010. The High Court dismissed Mr Vince’s cross-application and ordered that he pay the costs allowance directly to Ms Wyatt’s solicitors. Mr Vince appealed.

The Court of Appeal allowed his appeal, set aside the orders of the High Court, ordered that Ms Wyatt’s application be struck out and that she repay some of the money Mr Vince had paid to her solicitors. The Court of Appeal held that Ms Wyatt did not have any reasonable grounds for bringing her application, whilst Jackson LJ went further to suggest that her application was an abuse of process because it had no real prospect of success. Ms Wyatt appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held that it was likely that there were previous financial remedy proceedings in which the court made no order but that it very unlikely that an application by the wife had previously been dismissed. The appeal raised a procedural point in relation to the interpretation of the power to strike out an application under Rule 4.4 FPR 2010. The Supreme Court went on to judge that the Court of Appeal was wrong to strike out Ms Wyatt’s application because:

i) there is no power of summary judgment in the Family Procedure Rules, so that Jackson LJ was incorrect in his assessment of Ms Wyatt’s application as an abuse of process;

ii) Rule 4.4(1) has to be interpreted in line with the overriding objective, and a correct interpretation as to whether there are reasonable grounds to bring such an application cannot include looking at the prospects of success;

iii) As such, it could not be said that Ms Wyatt’s application failed to disclose reasonable grounds for bringing it.

Victoria Richardson family law specialist at McHale and Co said “It is very unusual for a claim to be brought 22 years after a Court ruled but due to their being no financial order, the claim has been allowed to be brought. The High Court will now consider how much Ms Wyatt should receive. The case highlights the importance of ensuring that all financial matters are finalised at the time of divorce and a court order must be obtained to prevent future claims being brought. Otherwise it could lead to future claims to a share of the wealth earned after the divorce.

It is crucial to seek timely and expert advice from a specialist family lawyer when going through a relationship breakdown.