Final settlement approved in unusual and long running financial remedies application issued 19 years after parties’ divorce

You may recall reading our blog post about the case involving a woman, Kathleen Wyatt, issuing financial proceedings against her ex-husband, Dale Vince, a staggering 19 years after the grant of decree absolute of their divorce in 1992. At the time of the parties’ separation in 1984, and for around 8 years after that, Mr Vince pursued a ‘new-age’ travelling lifestyle, protesting loudly against nuclear weapons and, generally, in favour of green solutions to society’s needs. He was certainly in no position to provide either Ms Wyatt, or the parties’ two children, with any substantial financial assistance.

Fast forward the clock to 2011 and Mr Vince’s green energy business is a phenomenal success and he a mutli-millionaire. Queue Ms Wyatt’s application for financial orders, in particular for an order that Mr Vince pay her a lump sum in full and final satisfaction of all her claims. Ms Wyatt  also applied for interim payments to cover her legal costs.  Mr Vince cross-applied for Ms Wyatt’s application to be struck-out (i.e. dismissed) as it disclosed “no reasonable grounds of success” and/or that it represented “an abuse of the court’s process”.

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Summary of Litigation to Date

In December 2012 the Family Division of the High Court dismissed Mr Vince’s strike-out application and ordered him to make interim payments in respect of Ms Wyatt’s legal costs directly to her solicitors. Mr Vince appealed, successfully, to the Court of Appeal, who struck out Ms Wyatt’s application and ordered her to pay back part of the money received to cover her costs.  Ms Wyatt appealed to the Supreme Court, who in March 2015 unanimously allowed her appeal and directed that her application proceed in the High Court.  The original costs order was restored and the costs repayment order set aside.

Following the Supreme Court judgement, Ms Wyatt’s application was listed for a Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment (FDR). This provides the parties with the opportunity to receive a non-binding adjudication from a Judge in an attempt to encourage settlement.  This hearing took place in October 2015, although no settlement was reached.  However, on 24 March 2016 terms of settlement were agreed.

Issues of Publication

The court rules stipulate that the general public are prohibited from attending private family proceedings, however since 2009 accredited media representatives have a right to attend subject to the court’s discretion. The attendance of the media at family proceedings does not affect or alter the statutory provisions and the rules prohibiting the publication of information relating to private family proceedings.

In a judgement dated 10 June 2016, The Honourable Mr. Justice Cobb confirmed that the final order settling the proceedings should be made public for the following reasons:

  1. the fact that “the lives and financial circumstances of the parties have already been trailed extensively in the public domain”
  2. Mr Vince had not disclosed any commercially sensitive information that required protection; and
  3. It is in the public interest for not only the outcome of Ms Wyatt’s case to be revealed, which has generated considerable media attention, but also the fact that the parties have, in the end, been able to reach a negotiated settlement without a trial.

Terms of Financial Settlement

In summary, the consent order provides for the following:

  1. Mr Vince to pay Ms Wyatt a lump sum of £300,000 in full and final satisfaction of all her financial claims; and
  2. Ms Wyatt is to retain a payment on account of £200,000 paid to her by Mr Vince towards the costs of the Supreme Court appeal in addition to the award of £125,000 towards her costs made in December 2012.

From Ms Wyatt’s lump sum, she will need to settle an outstanding bill of costs to her solicitors (which is yet un-quantified). No doubt the total sum owing will be eye-wateringly high.   As such, the net benefit to Ms Wyatt once her costs liability has been taken into account is not known.

Ms Wyatt’s “modest capital award” was seen to represent a “realistic and balanced appraisal of the unusual circumstances of the case”. However modest the award may be, this case should still be a lesson to separating spouses who do not finalise financial matters at the same time as their divorce, even if this is simply to formalise a clean break.  Otherwise you could be facing potentially years of litigation, financial uncertainty and exorbitant legal fees.

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