It has been seven years since my original article ‘Fool if you think it’s over’ which highlighted the cautionary tale of Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt who had separated in 1984, and whose divorce was finalised in 1992.
Theirs was a three-year marriage with one child.
Following the divorce proceedings Mr Vince went on to establish the multi-million pound and household name company Ecotricity.
In December 2014, an application by Ms Wyatt for further financial provision from Mr Vince was heard by the Supreme Court.
Since there had not been a formal clean break order within the divorce proceedings it was possible for Ms Wyatt to pursue her claim 30 years post-separation and over 20 years following conclusion of the divorce proceedings. In the end after lengthy litigation, Ms Wyatt received a payment from Mr Vince of £300,000, together with a further £300,000 as a contribution towards her costs.
The recent case of HAT v LAT further highlights the importance of obtaining a clean break order within divorce proceedings.
Here the parties entered into a separation agreement, which was a contract between them setting out how they wished to divide their finances upon divorce. That separation agreement had been implemented and in place for 30 years, but they did not go on to finalise the terms in a clean break order.
It was a nine-year marriage with no children.
When the wife applied for further financial provision from the husband, the judge did note the delay in her bringing the claim and the potential that created for injustice, but also noted that, notwithstanding the terms of the separation agreement, the husband had continued to provide the wife with significant financial support.
The judge said that delay was not a jurisdictional or procedural bar to the wife making a claim.
The longer-term arrangements have yet to be decided but as an interim decision, the court decided that the husband should pay the wife £8,500 per month interim maintenance and pay £200,000 as a contribution towards her legal costs of the ongoing proceedings.
This is yet another reminder that divorcing parties must conclude matters properly by way of a clean break order within the divorce.
This recent case highlights that even having a contract between you in the absence of a clean break, will not necessarily be sufficient to ensure that claims cannot be pursued in the future. Had there been a clean break order in the divorce, the husband could have still decided to make generous payments to the wife if he wished, but he could not then have been compelled to do so.
This problem is being exacerbated by the introduction of online divorce. Online divorce has made it easier for couples to deal with the mechanics of dissolving their marriage themselves but can make it easier for divorcing couples to overlook the need to properly conclude financial matters.
As the two cases above starkly demonstrate simply bringing the marriage to an end does not bring an end to the claims that a couple can pursue against each other. All separated married couples should seek legal advice about the importance of a clean break order.
The Family team at Greene & Greene can advise in relation to all aspects of separation, divorce and resolving financial issues, most importantly ensuring those are tied off properly in a clean break order to be submitted to the court within divorce proceedings.
This is only intended to be a summary and not specific legal advice. If you would like further information or advice, please do contact a member of our team.