Kathleen Wyatt has recently been granted the right to pursue her claim of £1.9million from her ex-husband, Dale Vince, twenty years after their divorce. Dale Vince and Kathleen Wyatt met in 1981 when she was 21 and he was 19. They married later that year. The couple lived together with Kathleen’s son from a previous relationship getting by day to day off of state benefits. The couple separated in 1993, shortly after moving to Norfolk where their son was born.
Vince’s first experiment with wind power was at Glastonbury festival where he connected a windmill to a pylon and used it to charge up the battery on several mobile phones. After numerous successful experiments Vince went on to get a loan from a bank in order to set up his first ever wind turbine, located on top of a hill in Nympsfield, in the Costswolds. This proved successful and he began to gain a substantial income. His business thrived and he later established a wind power firm, ‘Ecotricity’.
Wyatt first brought an action against Vince in 2011 and he appealed claiming that she had lodged the claim too late. Unfortunately for Vince, five UK Supreme Court justices including the deputy president, Lady Hale, Lord Clarke, Lord Wilson, Lord Hughes and Lord Hodge in a unanimous decision stated that the family division of the High Court could not strike out Wyatt’s claim before carefully considering all aspects of it.
Upon granting her the right to pursue the claim, the judges warned the newly-established millionaire’s ex-wife that she is likely to face difficulty in receiving the amount she desires primarily due to the extreme time gap, as well as the fact that the couple were only ever married for a total of three years. The Supreme Court suggested that she might be successful in relying on the fact that she was the main contributor in bringing up the couple’s child over a period of many years after the divorce. However, this could prove controversial, as their son has recently begun living with and working for his father.
Lord Wilson stated that Ms. Wyatt had “raised Vince’s son through sixteen years of hardship” and as a result her claim was “legally recognisable” and not “an abuse of process”. He did however go on to say that the £1.9 million Ms. Wyatt had hoped to secure was “too high an amount” and “out of question”.
Wyatt must now return to the High Court and proceed with her claim with the assistance of her lawyers, who showed much support stating that they “always knew their client had a strong claim”.
Vince on the other hand has expressed his disappointment in the Supreme Court, as he believed this case should have been brought to an end on the grounds that their extremely short relationship had ended 20 years ago.
The Concerns of ‘Opening the Floodgates’
Many critics have expressed concerns that granting Wyatt the right to proceed with her claim clearly illustrates and promotes the lack of time limit for ex-spouses to apply to the court for a financial settlement following a divorce, despite the strength and potential of their claim.
It is interesting to note that claims such as breach of contract and personal injury have barriers in relation to the time limit whereas it appears that divorce cases of this nature do not. The only way in which couples can guarantee safety from ex-spouses, demanding potential future earnings, is to obtain an order from the court at the time of divorce where both parties agree that there will be no future or further financial claims.
Mr. Vince himself believes that, if successful, this claim will create an ‘open season’ where people who had brief relationships will be able to bring an action claiming money from their ex-spouses.
The issue of a compensation culture is something that is greatly feared amongst legal professionals and the Government in Britain. The phenomena began to arise at the beginning of 2004.The concern is that a number of claims that pass through the courts system in the UK are unjustifiable. Negligence claims have proven to be the most prolific, ranging from medical to personal injury. The difference is, as stated previously, that personal injury claims have time limits. This case, if successful will cause great controversy, fundamentally because of how long it has been since the couple not only divorced but formally separated. As a result of allowing this claim to proceed it raises a concern that the floodgates could now be open.