News & Insights

Decree absolute is not enough

The case of Wyatt v Vince is a salutary reminder that finalising a divorce by obtaining decree absolute is not sufficient to avoid a subsequent financial claim against you by your former spouse.

In the case of Wyatt v Vince, Mrs Wyatt brought a successful financial claim against her former husband, Mr Vince, more than 20 years after their divorce. At the time of the divorce both parties were “penniless”. Mr Vince is now a very rich man, having founded a green energy company after the parties divorced. Mrs Wyatt was seeking close to £2 million from him. The parties have now settled the case, with Mrs Wyatt receiving a lump sum of £300,000, from which she must meet her legal fees.

Despite reports suggesting otherwise, this case has not changed the law. Married couples have financial claims against each other by virtue of their marriage. These include claims for lump sum payments, ongoing maintenance, transfers of property and pension sharing. On divorce the court can make these types of orders by consent or at a final hearing in financial remedy proceedings. The order will also normally dismiss the parties’ claims against one another, so that they cannot come back at a later stage and ask for money from their former spouse.

Spouses’ financial claims against one another remain open until dismissed by an order of the court. A decree absolute is not enough. Even if neither party has any assets or income to speak of at the time of divorce, it is imperative that the parties obtain an order from the court dismissing all claims that they have against each other. This is known as a “clean break order”.

Without a clean break order, there is a real risk, and no time limit on that risk, that your former spouse could make a claim against you at a later stage when your financial circumstances have improved; just like Mr Vince’s did. We therefore advise all clients to ensure that they finalise both the divorce and the financial matters so that they can move on with their lives without this risk hanging over them.