Following the widespread coverage of the Supreme Court decision in Wyatt and Vince, many people, both practitioners and clients alike, have been left with questions about the impact of the case on matrimonial financial proceedings.
The facts of the case are well documented in the national press. Briefly, Ms Wyatt applied for financial relief from her former husband, Mr Vince some 27 years after the marriage had broken down. The couple led a hippy lifestyle, however, following the birth of their son and subsequent divorce, in the late 1990’s Mr Vince’s company grew exponentially such that it is alleged it was worth circa £107 million.
When the application was made, Mr Vince made an application for it to be struck out under Rule 4.4 of the Family Procedure Rules allowing applications to be struck out if the statement of case discloses no reasonable grounds for bringing or defending the application, or the statement of case is an abuse of the court’s process or is otherwise likely to obstruct the just proposal of the proceedings.
The High Court deputy Judge dismissed the application and, subsequently, the Court of Appeal struck it out. The matter then came before the Supreme Court who made the decision that Ms Wyatt’s application can proceed.
The reasons for this decision appear to be based upon a technical point as to why the application of Ms Wyatt could not be struck out for the reasons provided for in Rule 4.4. Thus, the decision is that the application should be remitted and heard.
The decision does not appear to be an endorsement of Ms Wyatt’s application and the Supreme Court made it clear to her that her application for just under £2 million, or a sum even approaching that, would be out of the question and that her claim might still be dismissed. The Supreme Court also issued a clear shot across the bows to Ms Wyatt and others who may be considering this type of retrospective relief. She will need to clearly explain why it took so long for her to make the application, considering that Mr Vince’s wealth was made a number of years ago. The Supreme Court stated:
“(a) The marital cohabitation subsisted for scarcely more than two years.
(b) It broke down 31 years ago.
(c) The standard of living enjoyed by the parties prior to the breakdown could not have been lower.
(d) The husband did not begin to create his current wealth until 13 years after the breakdown.
(e) The wife has made no contribution, direct or indirect, to its creation”
Thus, the impact upon Matrimonial Financial Proceedings appears limited in its application and the facts of the case are remarkable. The case is yet to be heard in a full hearing, and may well never be, if the parties settle, so watch this space as the ramifications of the outcome of the full- hearing is likely to have a much greater impact in this area of law.
Sally Wilkes, Trainee Solicitor
Posted on Tuesday, 31st March 2015