Getting divorced has been made easier, but obtaining a Final Order (previously a Decree Absolute), should not be the end of the story. Few people realise that until a final financial order is made, financial claims remain open, even after a Final Order is made in divorce proceedings.
In the case of Wyatt v Vince, the parties separated in 1984 and eventually divorced in 1992, but a financial order was not made. At the time, the family had modest means. However, Mr Wyatt’s green energy business took off and he became a multi-millionaire. In 2011, 27 years after they separated, Mrs Wyatt made an application for financial provision. Following various appeals, Mrs Wyatt was able to proceed with her financial application.
In the case of Briers v Briers, the parties separated in 2002 and Decree Absolute was made in 2005. No financial orders were made. In 2013, 11 years after separation, Mrs Briers made a financial application. Mr Briers unsuccessfully argued that a final financial agreement had been reached in 2005 which involved Mrs Briers receiving a payment of £150,000, the transfer of the family home and company shares being transferred to Mr Briers. Although a draft separation agreement had been prepared, a final financial order had not been made and Mrs Briers was therefore able to proceed.
The court will take into account all the circumstances of the case, including delay in making an application, but that may not prevent a financial application being successful. It may seem at the time of separation or even divorce, that modest assets do not justify the cost of entering into a consent order as in the case of Wyatt v Vince.
However, if one party inherits, sells a company or wins the lottery that may encourage a former spouse to make a financial claim. However, it does not have to involve a life changing event such as a lottery win. If a former spouse falls on hard times, then that may be enough. A final financial order made at the time of the divorce provides certainty for the future for both parties.