Imagine that you married when you were 20-years-old, had a child with your spouse and separated three years later. During the marriage you lived a peripatetic “new age hippy” lifestyle surviving on welfare benefits, with not a penny to your name.
Would you be surprised when your ex-wife, thirty years later brought a claim against you for financial compensation?
In a rags to riches tale, British entrepreneur and founder of wind farm company Ecotricity, Dale Vince, has battled his former spouse for several years to defeat her claim against him. She is asking for almost 2 million pounds.
Mr. Vince created a wind turbine from recycled materials, a venture that brought him millions of pounds and an Order of the British Empire.
Living in the lap of luxury with his second wife and their child, life was good. But not so good for his ex Kathleen Wyatt. When the marriage ended she took responsibility for their son, her daughter from a previous marriage, and went on to have two more children with her second husband, a marriage that also ended in divorce. Husband #2 also failed to provide financial support.
Ms. Wyatt approached Mr. Vince privately to see if he might be persuaded to assist her financially. He would not, and so she left the matter alone, claiming she was intimidated by his anger in response to her requests.
Her first foray into court in 2011 was successful, the lower court ruling that since the matter of support had never been settled or litigated, and given there was no statutory time limit to seek support, her claim could proceed.
Happily for Dale Vince, the English Court of Appeal disagreed with the lower court. Lord Justice Jackson said the court “should not allow people to be harassed by claims for financial relief which were issued many years after the divorce and had no real prospect of success.” The Court also noted that Mr. Vince was “the most improbable candidate for affluence.”
Alas for Mr. Vince, this week five members of Britain’s highest court, the House of Lords, overturned the appeal court’s ruling. Lord Wilson, for a unanimous court, ruled that the court must consider “the contribution of each party to the welfare of the family, including by looking after the home or caring for the family”.
Mr. Vince characterized his ex’s win as her “cashing in an old lottery ticket” however, the decision made by the Law Lords only allows her to pursue her claim. It does not guarantee her any amount of money and it is notable that the Court cautioned that it was unlikely she would receive anything close to millions of pounds.
The decision has received much media attention with Ms. Wyatt’s supporters suggesting that Mr. Vince went on his merry way unencumbered to achieve fame and fortune, while Ms. Wyatt cared for his son with no financial assistance from him.
Those who support wind-farm tycoon Mr. Vince decry the ruling saying that because Ms. Wyatt remarried and had two additional children, she should look to their father for support. They also criticize a media report that Mr. Vince has so far paid half a million pounds in legal fees, including his payment of Ms. Wyatt’s legal expenses. They protest that if she wishes to bring a claim against him, she should pay for it!
The next chapter of this litigation will be carefully watched and no doubt, appealed at every level.
As for former spouses in British Columbia, it is always dangerous to leave family matters “undone” and yes, there have been several cases where spouses have brought claims long after separation and been successful.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang