Only yesterday with my family lawyer head on I had conversation, along these lines, with, let’s call her, Shelley.
Shelley: Look Liz, I just want to be divorced.
Me: I can understand that.
Shelley: We’ve been apart 6 years now, I’ve got a new home, new life. And he’s still a twat.
Me: Ok. But if you apply for Decree Absolute now without sorting out finances, one of you may be able to claim against the other later on. For example, what about if you win the lottery without getting an order now in full and final settlement of your financial claims? He could just stick in an application and you’d have to make full disclosure of all your finances, including your lottery money.
Shelley: He’s too stupid for that. Really Liz. He really is.
Me: But, if you sort it out now you could get a Clean Break Consent Order which means financial claims are settled for good and you both go your separate ways without either of you having to look over your shoulder.
Shelley: Yeah and how much is that going to cost?
Me: Well as you know, there’s no legal aid now due to government cuts and/
Shelley: Quite and to be honest, I can’t pay legal fees and he certainly won’t so it’s a non-brainer. I’ll get my divorce and leave it at that.
It’s true, because of cost and the number of people now representing themselves in the divorce courts after the abolition of legal aid, it’s entirely understandable that couples, where there is seemingly little of real value to argue over, will just opt to ignore the issues of finances on divorce.
And it would seem that’s precisely what happened in the recently reported case where cash-strapped Ms Wyatt, some 20 years after divorce, made a financial claim against her ex-husband, Mr Vince, now a multi-millionaire. The case made it’s way to the Supreme Court, after the Court of Appeal stated Wyatt’s application was lodged too late. The Supreme Court however decided otherwise and said her application for financial order should be allowed.
This doesn’t mean that 20 years after divorce, Wyatt will automatically get hold of a chunk of Vince’s vast post-divorce-accumulated fortune. But it does mean that the court, on looking at all the factors it usually takes into account when making financial awards, will at least consider Wyatt’s claim. Wyatt was apparently after around £1.9 million. My guess is she will get a nothing like that. But the principle is now out there.
So how to avoid this? It’s easy. After Decree Nisi and before Decree Absolute the parties enter into a Consent Order finalising all financial claims. Maybe at the time Wyatt and Vince both took the apathetic approach. But I expect Vince, for sure, is kicking himself now.