Divorce: second bite of the cherry

6 September, 2017

Many people think that once a divorce has been finalised, and a couple have agreed how to divide their assets, then that is the end of their responsibility to each other and that their former partner cannot make further financial claims.  In fact, that is not necessarily the case. Benjamin Carter, specialist family lawyer from law firm Cripps, highlights the pitfalls.

If you have made an informal agreement with your partner to divide your assets at the end of a divorce and have not obtained a court order setting out the agreement then either partner can potentially ask the Court for more. This has happened in a number of cases where the original agreement made at the time of separation was not upheld and additional financial provision was granted.

Two cases which have made the headlines recently illustrate what can happen.

In 2015, in the case of Wyatt v Vince, the Supreme Court confirmed that there is no time limit on making a financial claim arising out of a divorce. The couple divorced in 1992 when they were, as later described by some of the national papers, ‘penniless new age travellers’. 

In this case, the original court file was, in the passage of time, mislaid and therefore it was not clear what arrangements, if any, had been made. This enabled Kathleen Wyatt, almost 25 years later, to make a claim against Mr Vince who by that time owned a staggeringly successful green energy business, valued at £57 million.

Mr Vince claimed that the decision was tantamount to his former wife “cashing in an old lottery ticket” but ultimately, the claim was successful.

In another case, Glenn Briers, the owner of a fashion chain which includes such famous brands as Lambretta and Vision Street Wear, was ordered to pay his ex-wife £2.7 million, 27% of his assets, some 11 years after they divorced. 

Shortly after the divorce, he had transferred the family home to his wife and paid off the mortgage. In exchange, he had kept the business which he had started in their garage, with just £81, when they were both full time teachers. Mr Briers later maintained that there was an agreement that these arrangements settled any financial obligation between them but the court disagreed.

Between the divorce and Mrs Briers’ application for financial provision, the business grew into a fashion chain with an annual turnover up to £30 million. Whilst Mr Briers was building up the business, Mrs Briers continued to teach and look after the children. 

Her continuing contribution by looking after the children, and claims by the Mrs Briers that there were insufficient details concerning Mr Briers’ financial circumstances, led the court to decide that despite the 10 year gap, Mrs Briers was entitled to a substantial payment. 

These cases highlight the fact that the passage of time does not insulate a former spouse from a financial claim by their former partner, even many years after they divorced. The key point in both these cases is that there was no court order setting out the division of assets and confirming that the couple’s financial claims were dismissed.

Anyone who is going through a divorce, and wants to avoid the Briers/Wyatt trap, should obtain a court order which confirms that whatever financial arrangement has been put in place is in full and final satisfaction of the parties’ claims. These orders are quite easy to obtain but both parties  will need to give full  details of your financial affairs.

If you have been divorced but did not obtain a court order, or enter into a formal financial agreement, you may be entitled to more, particularly if it is likely that your former spouse was less than open about his or her financial affairs. In either case, a solicitor can review your situation and advise you of your options.

If you would like to speak with a solicitor to discuss this in more detail, please contact Benjamin on 01892 506081 or email benjamin.carter@cripps.co.uk.

First published in the September edition of InsideKent.