It is a common misconception of parties who are divorcing that once the Decree Absolute is pronounced and the marriage has legally ended that financial matters between them have also been finalised. This is not the case!
As the Supreme Court decision in the case of Vince v Wyatt demonstrates, if parties do not have a Financial Order that provides for a clean break (that being a dismissal of all claims in the future) either spouse can make a claim against the others’ assets, even years after the divorce.
In this case, the parties were married for just over two years. They had little money and relied on state benefits. The parties separated in 1984 but did not divorce until 1992. At this time, they did not obtain a clean break Order, presumably because neither of them had any assets to divide. By 1996, the Husband had built up a very successful business which was worth in the region of £107 million. In 2011, some 18 years after they divorced, the Wife issued financial proceedings against the Husband.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Wife could bring these proceedings against her Husband and confirmed that it is possible to pursue financial claims against an ex-spouse many years after a divorce. The Court stated that the Husband should have taken sufficient steps to prevent the Wife from pursuing claims against him in the future, even though they had no assets.
The decision in this case highlights the importance of obtaining a Financial Order at the time of the divorce (whether this is by agreement between the parties or following an application to Court) which includes a clean break. Whether parties have already dealt with their assets, for example, sold the joint property and closed any joint accounts or do not have any assets at all, this applies to every divorce case. As Vince v Wyatt shows, you never know how your circumstances might change!
A ‘Clean Break’ Order means that neither of you will be able to make a claim upon the other, whether for maintenance or capital, at any point in the future. Without this Order you are at risk of future claims, no matter what you may have agreed at the time of your separation.
Even in the most amicable of divorces we would recommend obtaining an Order from the Court. This is a relatively straightforward process and doesn’t involve either of you having to go to Court.
Please note this article is provided for general information purposes only to clients and friends of Atkins Dellow LLP. It is not intended to impart legal advice on any matter. Specialist advice should be taken in relation to specific circumstances. Whilst we endeavour to ensure that the information in this article is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy, and Atkins Dellow LLP does not accept any liability for error or omission.
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