Rupert Chapman

The Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in the case of Wyatt v Vince, overturning the Court of Appeal’s earlier judgment and refusing to strike out Mrs Wyatt’s claim for financial provision.

The parties had been married for only 3 years and had one child, with another child being treated as a child of the family. They had been undergraduates at the time and had chosen to adopt a ‘traveller’ lifestyle during their marriage, having neither assets nor income. They had separated in 1984 and divorced in 1992. H had claimed that there had been an application for ancillary relief which had been dismissed, but there was no evidence and no existing paperwork. In 1995 W had entered into another relationship, by which she had children, and H had started a successful business with the support of his new partner, which was at the time of the hearing said to be worth ‘many millions’. H had married his new partner in 2006 and had a child through that relationship. The parties’ child was, by the hearing, an adult, living with H and making his career in H’s business.

W did not make any claim until 2011 (more than 18 years after the divorce and 27 years after separation), when she sought the full range of orders available to her as well as an order for the payment of £125,000 towards her legal costs. H, in response, sought an order to strike out W’s application, relying on rule 4.4(1) of the Family Procedure Rules 2010. The court considered that application together with W’s application for a ‘fighting fund’ to pursue the proceedings.

The Court at first instance allowed Mrs Wyatt a ‘fighting fund’ and rejected Mr Vince’s application to strike out the claim. On appeal the Court of Appeal reversed both orders (see [2013] EWCA Civ 495) and in a separate judgement dealt with the repayment of the monies already spent from the fighting fund (see [2013] EWCA Civ 934).

In the leading Judgment Lord Wilson reversed the Court of Appeal’s judgments in all respects, holding that;

  • There can be no time limit for applications for financial remedies, though delay (in this case described as ‘inordinate’) was a relevant factor, particularly if the respondent has arranged their finances on the understanding that no claim would be made.
  • One former spouse should not be expected to meet any identified need of the other – it must be shown that the need is generated by the relationship between the parties.
  • The contribution of Mrs Wyatt in bringing up the children (and the almost total lack of support in that exercise from Mr Vince) was a magnetic factor, as was the issue of delay.
  • Rule 4.4 must be construed without reference to any ‘reasonable prospects of success’ – the rule is intended to address applications which are legally unrecognisable (e.g. where a claimant has remarried or the claim has previously been dismissed).
  • ‘Statement of case’ in Rule 4.4 should be construed to include Form E and not limited to Form A.
  • The approach of listing a short preliminary hearing on a ‘notice to show cause’ why a previously agreed settlement (such as an arbitration award, pre-nuptial agreement or separation agreement) should not be endorsed in a court order was specifically approved.
  • Where the wife had already incurred debts to her solicitors and where the husband, who had no difficulty in paying, was ‘evidently litigious’ and was escalating the interlocutory costs, it was not reasonable to expect the wife to continue without assistance from the husband as to costs.
  • The court retained a discretion to order the repayment on appeal of a legal costs order as otherwise such orders would be effectively unappealable.

Lord Wilson indicated, however, that the height of the wife’s case was perhaps a lump sum sufficient to provide a modest mortgage-free property, and not the £550,000 house and £1,350,000 income fund she sought. The matter was listed for an FDR and would thereafter be dealt with in accordance with the normal procedure for such claims. The judgment can be found here.

Rupert Chapman