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Wyatt v Vince [2015] UKSC 14

On 11 March 2015, the Supreme Court published its decision in the case of Wyatt v Vince, which has received very wide publicity. This interest was sparked partly because this couple divorced more than 22 years ago – the final divorce decree was granted on 26.10.92 – and partly because of their personal histories, namely that Mr Vince is a “green turbine” tycoon and is said to be worth £110 million.

They were new age travellers and married in 1981 but only stayed together for 2 years. During the marriage they had one son, who now lives with and works with his father. The wife also had a baby daughter from a previous relationship whose father has never provided any financial support. They went their own ways in 1983/4 and so have been separated for 30 years. The wife had two other children with another man who did not support her or the children. The husband was plainly resourceful and with his engineering skills he established a business in 1996 which rapidly became successful through generating electricity by wind turbines. In contrast, the wife has often had to rely to benefits and part time work although she was able to buy her council house in Monmouthshire, though that is said to be in poor repair.

Kathleen Wyatt started these financial proceedings in 2011, 19 years after the divorce, and 27 years after the separation. The High Court ordered that Dale Vince pay the wife’s solicitors £35,000 per month(!) and dismissed his application that Kathleen Wyatt’s case be dismissed. His lawyers argued that it was an abuse of process for her to bring the case after so many years. Mr Vince went to the Court of Appeal where he was successful. Ms Wyatt then appealed to the Supreme Court where she was successful.

She succeeded because there is no statute of limitation barring her from making the application although she would be barred if she had remarried. It was also Ms Wyatt’s case that Mr Vince had not provided her with child maintenance, which he disputed.

One problem in the case was that, because of the passage of time, there were simply no records. They agree that in about 1992 the court had directed that Mr Vince pay maintenance for the children at a nominal rate, although at that stage both were living on state benefits.

Of course, the Supreme Court was very concerned about the delay. The Supreme Court also said that Ms Wyatt’s claim for £1.9 million was “out of the question” and that a rich husband was not “an insurer against all hazards”. The Supreme Court went on to deliberate on the statute governing such applications, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which directs courts to consider “the welfare of the family including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family”. Ms Wyatt had looked after the parties’ son Dane until he was 18, which was in 2001, and Mr Vince had looked after her first daughter, from another man, when they lived together.

The Supreme Court did not decide the amount of money that Mr Vince should pay to Ms Wyatt and returned the case to a lower court for that decision to be made if they cannot reach agreement.

Although the facts of this case are highly unusual the key point is that there is no time limit on making application for financial provision to be made after divorce: although remarriage is a bar.

This problem can be easily addressed if the divorcing couple enter into an agreement settling their financial affairs on divorce. That agreement should, ideally, be put in a Consent Order sent to the court for a Judge to approve. This process is relatively inexpensive.

This article is for information purposes only and is not legal advice. It should not be acted or relied upon and legal advice should be sought before applying any of the information in this article to any facts or circumstances.

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