Ex-wife Brings Claim 20 Years After Divorce

In Wyatt v Vince the parties had married in 1981 and had two children. They lived an ‘alternative lifestyle’, and neither of them had any assets or income. That was their position at the date of separation, which was probably in 1984. A decree absolute (officially divorcing them) was obtained in 1992.  All other documents relating to the divorce had been lost or destroyed. It was impossible to establish whether the wife had applied for ancillary relief (financial claim) at the time of the divorce and how any such application was resolved.

In about 1995, the husband started a business with his new partner. The wife applied for child support in 1997, but the husband’s business was only starting and the wife’s application resulted in a nil assessment. The husband’s company subsequently flourished and is now worth many millions. The wife commenced financial remedy proceedings in 2011. The husband applied to have the wife’s application struck out immediately and the wife cross-applied for an Order that the husband finance her claim in the sum of £125,000.

At first instance, the judge dismissed the husband’s application and granted the wife’s application. The husband appealed.

The Court of Appeal allowed the husband’s appeal and struck out the wife’s claim. Lord Justice Jackson stated that the court has the power to strike out an application issued many years after divorce and which would have no real prospect of success at trial as being ‘an abuse of the court’s process’. It was stated that the wife’s application was ‘doomed to failure’ because:

  • at any time when her claim for financial remedy was live and should have been advanced a substantive order would not have resulted simply because neither of them had any assets or income
  • the husband’s present fortune was achieved many years after the breakdown of the relationship and years after the divorce

Therefore, if the lower court’s order was allowed to stand, the result was most likely to be that the wife would recover nothing and the husband would pay the costs of both sides.

Lord Justice Thorpe was quick to note that this case was ‘extreme’ and a strike-out application would only succeed in ‘rare and exceptional cases.’The circumstances of this case, where two people who were penniless, have opted out of conventional life, separated for many years, and then one went on to make a fortune, are very unlikely to be replicated other than very occasionally.


Elizabeth Bettes

Published on 21/05/2013

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