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Recent Court ruling shows importance of financial consent orders

In a case recently heard at the Supreme Court it was held that a business man’s ex-wife could be awarded a share of his money even though this was accrued after they had split up as no financial order had been made prior to the divorce.

Ms W sued her ex-husband for a share of his money 20 years after they divorced.  In the interim Mr V had launched a company worth £57 million, which she was applying for a share of.

The Supreme Court ruled that Ms W was entitled to a share of Mr V’s money and for her legal costs to be paid stating that it was a legally recognisable claim as there had been no financial settlement reached when the parties had previously divorced.

There has been a significant change in lifestyles since the parties were married with Mr V living in an expensive house with his second wife, whilst Ms W was said to live in a “modest house” occasionally working and occasionally surviving on benefits.  Due to the disparity in situations it was agreed by the Supreme Court that Ms W should be able to bring the claim for a financial remedy.

Following the outcome of the case, there have been calls for a statute of limitations to be put in place for financial relief cases in order to prevent this type of situation occurring again.  However, such a situation would only occur in a very small proportion of divorce cases as in many instances parties are advised to deal with financial issues alongside the divorce.

Initially Ms W had been seeking £1.9 million, however, after the decision of the Supreme Court, an out of Court settlement of £300,000 plus legal costs was reached and this has since been approved by a High Court Judge.

Approving the terms of the settlement, High Court family judge Mr Justice Cobb, sitting in London, said; “I am perfectly satisfied that it is reasonable, and that the wife is entitled to receive a modest capital award following the breakdown of this marriage.  The lump sum payment agreed between the parties fairly represents, in my view, a realistic and balanced appraisal of the unusual circumstances of this case.”

Mr V said; “I feel that we all have a right to move on and not be looking over our shoulders. This could signal open season for people who had brief relationships a quarter of a century ago. It's mad in my opinion...  This case has been a terrible waste of time and money on a meritless claim.  I'm disappointed that the Supreme Court decided not to throw out the case, given it was brought over 30 years since the relationship ended. We'd both moved on and started families of our own. The passing of time was extremely prejudicial, it's been so long that there are no records, no court has kept anything, and it's hard to defend yourself in such circumstances - indeed the delay itself has enabled the claim, because there is no paperwork in existence.  There clearly needs to be a statute of limitations for divorce cases - a time limit beyond which a claim cannot be made.”

Samantha Lee, Managing Director and Head of Family Law at Swain & Co Solicitors says; “This case highlights the importance of reaching agreements in relation to financial matters during divorce proceedings.  An agreement by way of a consent order, approved by the Court at the time of the divorce would have stopped this becoming an issue.  I would therefore urge people to consider finances carefully and make sure an agreement is reached and approved by the Court when going through a divorce.”

If you have any queries relating to divorce or financial settlement contact our family team today on 02392 492 967.

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