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Canberra Family Law – Ex-wife allowed to pursue claim decades after divorce

By April 7, 2015No Comments

In the UK, fierce debate is raging over a Supreme Court decision (reported in The Guardian) enabling an ex-wife to bring a claim against her ex-husband two decades after their divorce.  Dale Vince and Kathleen Wyatt were married for just over two years and had a child together, but they divorced without a financial agreement in place. The ex-husband then went on to become a multi-millionaire and now, Wyatt is asking for a slice of his pie. And the debate rages.

While the crux of the matter is that there is no statute of limitations in the UK on divorce claims, and therefore the court was obliged to rule in favour of her being allowed to make her claim, much of the debate has centred on the question of whether a claim can, in fact, be made on wealth that is amassed post-divorce. The fear is that this case will open the floodgates for ex-partners to come out of the woodwork and make claims on ex-spouses who have gone on to earn greater wealth after the marriage has ended. However, the ruling will really only be relevant to spouses who have not finalised their financial affairs and as such, should give impetus to divorcing couples to ensure all financial matters are settled when they divorce and court orders obtained.

On the one hand, Vince argues he doesn’t owe Wyatt anything, because he didn’t have any money to give her when the kids were young. On the other hand, Wyatt claims she raised Vince’s child (and step-daughter) under tough circumstances and now deserves a little payback.

Vince has been quoted as saying, ‘This could signal open season for people who had brief relationships a quarter of a century ago’, but critics have pointed out that parenthood is not a brief relationship. Writing in The Guardian, Deborah Gorr argues that “Vince doesn’t acknowledge that his freedom to make his own fortuitous choices in life was dependent on his ex-wife remaining his son’s primary carer”.

It would seem the claim’s success hinges on the fact that Wyatt raised the couple’s son on limited means and without child support from her ex-husband, who is now very much in a position to be able to remedy that lack of support. However, many are outraged at the fact that the child in question is now an adult, and that therefore Wyatt is seen to be lining her own pocket with any funds she will receive.

Despite the debate, merely because Wyatt is to be allowed to pursue her claim does not mean she will win. In fact the judges have expressed that she faces “formidable difficulties” in seeking a large payout, not only because of her delay in claiming, but also because of the brief nature of the marriage. While she will undoubtedly rely on her contribution in raising the children, the judges have warned her she is unlikely to be awarded the millions of pounds she seeks, rather being more likely to receive “a comparatively modest sum”.

One judge soberly noted, “It is a dangerous fallacy … that the current law always requires rich men to meet the reasonable needs of their ex-wives.” In a recent controversial test case also in the UK, an ex-wife of a millionaire was told to ‘get a job’ and that she should not expect an income for life from her former husband.

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