Divorce myth: Being divorced means you have no more financial claims on each other
The case of Wyatt v Vince  UKSC 14 serves as a stark lesson on the risks that come from assuming that decree absolute brings to an end all financial claims arising from a divorce.
Once decree absolute has been granted this legally brings to an end a marriage. However, the financial claims between spouses can only be brought to an end by an order of the court – irrespective of whether that order is made by agreement or following contested financial remedy proceedings.
In the case of Wyatt v Vince, the parties had obtained their decree absolute many years before addressing the financial claims between them. At the time of their divorce, neither party had any assets nor did they have any significant income.
In the years that followed the decree absolute, Mr Vince went on to create a company that catapulted him into wealth. By the time Ms Wyatt brought her claims for financial provision Mr Vince’s net worth was measured in the millions. A lengthy court battle followed that ended in the Supreme Court – and the decision that Ms Wyatt was entitled to bring her financial claims. While the Supreme Court judges expressed the clear view that Ms Wyatt faced difficulties in seeking a financial order in her favour, she was still entitled to pursue those claims.
Can you make a claim after the decree absolute?
So, what claims can a former spouse bring following decree absolute, when there has been no court order dealing with the financial arrangements? In summary, they can seek:
- Spousal maintenance payments – so long as the party bringing the claim has not remarried
- Child maintenance payments
- Capital claims for a lump-sum payment
- Property adjustment orders – providing for a sale or transfer of property held in a party’s sole name or in joint names with another person
- Pension sharing orders – for a share of a spouse’s pension to be transferred for their benefit
This can lead to parties incurring the legal costs of a forensic analysis of their financial circumstances during the marriage, and then after decree absolute. For many parties, after decree absolute, life has moved on with new relationships and business ventures. Yet they are then faced with having to deal with the legal aspects of a divorce that they had put behind them long ago.
An extremely important, and often overlooked, aspect is that an ex-spouse’s claims against their former partner’s estate on their death will remain open unless there has been a financial order made by the family court dismissing those claims. This can have devastating consequences if the deceased party has since remarried, and their former spouse seeks a share of their estate and challenges any provision made in their Will.
While the process of dissolving a marriage has become more straightforward, and easier for parties to deal with themselves, the financial aspects require careful consideration. Seeking legal advice at an early stage can potentially avoid storing up a complex, and costly, problem for the future. The opinion that ‘being divorced means you have no financial claims on each other’ is a myth.
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