This was a question the courts were asked recently by Gloucestershire entrepreneur Dale Vince and his ex-wife Kathleen Wyatt. In 1995 Dale founded Ecotricity, and since then it has become a very successful green energy company, based in Stroud.
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When Dale and Kathleen married in 1981 however, they had virtually nothing, and an ‘alternative’ lifestyle. After having a child together, they separated in 1984, and were divorced in 1992. Life moved on for both of them into new directions, until in 2011, 27 years after they separated, Kathleen decided to ask the court to order Dale to pay her maintenance and other money. Her rights to do so had not been ended when she was divorced, so she argued that now that Dale was a successful businessman, it was only fair that she should have some benefit from this. Dale objected that she had waited too long, and it would not be right for him to have to start paying her now.
The High Court agreed with Kathleen that she could pursue her application, because it thought she had a good reason for delaying so far – it was not until quite recently that it had been worthwhile claiming any money from Dale. The Court of Appeal however disagreed and overturned the decision of the High Court. It said that this was a hopeless case which should not have been allowed to go ahead after such a delay, and although there is no fixed time limit for applying to the court, the judges should not allow Dale to be harassed by a claim, brought many years after divorce, which they thought had no real prospect of success. Kathleen could not expect her ex- to be her insurer against life’s eventualities. The court refused to order Dale to pay Kathleen any maintenance, and indeed stopped her taking her application further.
Although the Court of Appeal said that Kathleen’s claim should not go ahead, that is not quite the end of the story. First, Kathleen may appeal against the decision to the Supreme Court, which could take a different view. Secondly, the court said that the facts of this case were extreme, and if the delay had not been so long, there could have been a different outcome.
If you are getting divorced, there is an important lesson. If you want certainty, so that you and your ex- can each move on with your lives free of the worry that the other may surprise you and want more money from you in the future, you must deal with financial arrangements properly and promptly through the court at the time you divorce or soon afterwards. If you don’t do this, then you could be risking further heartache and expense.
Davis Gregory are specialist divorce solicitors based in Cheltenham operating in the Gloucestershire region. This article is for general guidance only, but to discuss your particular situation, please email us or phone 01242 235202
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