The last few months have seen a lot of media coverage for family law. At the end of February, there was wide coverage in the press of a decision from the Court of Appeal in which the wife of a millionaire was told “to get a job” as she had no right to be “supported for life” by her ex-husband.
This case involved a husband who was paying his ex-wife over £75,000 per year maintenance for her and the child. They separated and divorced seven years ago and he had been making these payments ever since. However, he was worried that he would not be able to afford it into his retirement and applied to reduce them. The Court agreed with him and was unhappy that the wife had not sought employment to increase her income. The daughter was 10 by this time and the Judge was clear in that he thought the ex-wife should have been actively seeking employment to bridge the gap. The Judge decided to gradually reduce the spousal maintenance payments over the next five years, after which they would stop. The Judge said that women with children aged over seven “should at least try to find a part-time job”.
In other news, in the case of Wyatt v Vince, we heard about an ex-wife, Ms Wyatt, who applied for a financial claim against her ex-husband, Mr Vince, some 20 years after they were divorced. Despite the fact that they had lived a simple lifestyle and the entirety of the husband’s wealth accrued after the marriage, the Court ruled that she was 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. This recent 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.
Both of these cases are specific to the facts. However, they are both a reminder of how important it is for parties in a divorce to ensure that they are fully advised in dealing with the divorce and financial claims arising from it.