A former New Age traveller has won the right to fight for £2m from her millionaire former husband, 20 years after they divorced – so does this re-write the law on marriage and coupledom?
Kathleen Wyatt has been granted the right by the Supreme Court to seek a pay-out from her ex-husband Dale Vince two decades after they divorced.
The ruling seems to undermine the assumption that there is a time limit preventing divorced partners from claiming money from their former spouses years after the fact.
Mr Vince, 53, launched his highly successful business career several years after he and Ms Wyatt were divorced in 1992 – he is now worth £107m after founding his company Ecotricity.
In their 20s, the couple had a son called Dane and lived a New Age traveller lifestyle before their separation in the 1980s and later divorce, the court heard.
I feel that we all have a right to move on Dale Vince
Ms Wyatt, 55, has tried to claim £1.9m from Mr Vince, saying she had raised their son through “16 years of real hardship”. But Mr Vince said the claim at that late stage was an “abuse of process”.
The Supreme Court today ruled that Ms Wyatt could bring her case to the family courts.
She lodged her initial claim in 2011, after which it was taken all the way through the legal system to the High Court, then the Court of Appeal and finally the highest court in the land.
That’s what Mr Vince called it, warning of “open season for people who had brief relationships a quarter of a century ago”.
He said the time between divorce and the claim was “extremely prejudicial”, adding that it had been enabled by the fact there was “no paperwork in existence”.
“I feel that we all have a right to move on, and not be looking over our shoulders,” he added.
The Supreme Court unanimously found in favour of Ms Wyatt, although it is unclear whether other divorcees would be able to launch similar cases.
Lord Wilson, who delivered the ruling, said the court must have regard “to the contribution of each party to the welfare of the family, including by looking after the home or caring for the family”.
But Alex Carruthers, a divorce lawyer at Hughes Fowler Carruthers Solicitors, said the case could lead to “a flood of such people trying to see if they can get a second bite of the cherry many years later”.
We may need to wait for similar cases to come to court to find out whether divorced partners can bring claims years after they became single.
Lawyers have been quick to seize on the need for couples to “get their house in order” by making sure the right paperwork is in place to dictate what would happen after separation and divorce.
Charmaine Hast, a senior family lawyer at law firm Wedlake Bell, said there was no guidance “in statute or case law on this at the moment” as to how long divorced partners could wait.