Family Court – A landmark Supreme Court decision

We have today (11.03.2015) seen a landmark Supreme Court decision that anyone who has been divorced or who is in the process of divorcing should be made aware of. Cases that reach the Supreme Court do not always involve decisions that are likely to impact on wider society and sometimes seem to only relate to “big money” cases. However, today’s unanimous decision from 5 Supreme Court Judges is not to be ignored.  

An ex-wife, Ms Wyatt, made an application for a financial claim against her husband some 20 years after they were divorced. Despite the fact that they had lived a simple lifestyle, with all of Mr Vince’s wealth accruing after the marriage, the Court has ruled that she is still entitled to make a financial claim against him. The exact value of the award is yet to be decided and clearly it will take into consideration the length of time that has passed and the fact that he has earned his millions after the marriage. The important fact, however, is that she has been allowed to pursue the claim.  

Many people incorrectly believe that a Decree Absolute in divorce not only ends their marriage, but also ends the financial ties between the parties. That is not the case. In addition to the divorce, the parties must enter into a separate financial agreement in order to bring an end to those potential future claims. This is known as a Clean Break Consent Order. Without this Clean Break agreement, unless you remarry, then the financial claims remain open and today’s decision shows us that however much time passes, you potentially remain at risk of your ex-husband or ex-wife coming back to exercise those claims in the future.  

All of this can be avoided by dealing with the financial issues at the same time as the divorce. Even if there are no assets at the time of the divorce, it will still be cost effective to enter into a clean break Consent Order to end those claims. This will save a lot of stress and cost in the future in the event that your financial position improves and you face the risk of a claim coming to light. Mr Vince will certainly be regretting his decision not to end the financial claims 20 years ago. Likewise, if you are reading this having divorced years ago, but believe that you never exercised your right to bring about financial claims against your ex-spouse, as long as you haven’t remarried, then now may be the time to seek legal advice about your rights.

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