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Wright-v-Wright – Court of Appeal (February 2015) – A meal Ticket for Life?

The Court of Appeal decision in the case of Mr & Mrs Wright has been widely reported in the press recently. In summary, Mrs Wright has been told that she must go out to work to support herself, notwithstanding that she has not worked (her choice) since 2008 when the parties divorced.

Historically, the higher courts (particularly in London) have been the haven of the divorced wife by supporting claims for spousal maintenance from their former husbands on a joint lives basis (until death). Mr Wright made the point that he would not be in a financial position to continue to pay spousal maintenance to his former wife once her had retired. The Judge at first instance  told Mrs Wright to “just get on with it” and find a job like “vast numbers of other women with children”.  The judge made an order that her personal maintenance payments must cease, with a tailing off of payments over a 5 year period at which point Mr Wright will retire. Mrs Wright appealed the order as she wanted her maintenance to continue beyond Mr Wright’s retirement. The Court of Appeal supported the the lower court’s decision and rejected Mrs Wright’s appeal. The Court of Appeal Judge said “There is a general expectation that,once children are in year 2 (age 7), mothers can begin part-time work and make a financial contribution”

This decision punches a large hole in the expectation of wives (and husbands in some cases) that they can continue their lifestyles beyond divorce without contributing to their own financial support. Unless there is a good reason as to why a wife cannot work then it is highly likely that the court will limit the duration of any spousal maintenance order. This view is in keeping with the provisions of section 25A of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 – where the court must consider whether a clean break order is appropriate.

it would appear that the meal ticket for life may be an order of the past although each case is fact specific and will be decided as such.

Wyatt -v Vince – Supreme Court (11 March 2015) – Delay in applying for financial remedy orders.

An application for financial remedy orders was brought by Ms Wyatt, the former wife of Mr Vincent, 27 years after they separated and 19 years after they were divorced.

Following the parties divorce in 1992, Mr Vince became a successful businessman and is now worth many millions. Ms Wyatt claims that she single handedly supported the parties’ children without any financial contribution from the husband. She further claimed that she was unable to apply to the court for a financial remedy order until 2010 because she had been let down by the legal profession.

A judge initially ruled that her claims should be considered. Mr Vince appealed to the Court of Appeal who allowed his appeal. Ms Wyatt then appealed to the Supreme Court who ruled that Ms Wyatt’s application should not be struck out as an abuse of process as there is no power within the rules to give summary judgment.

Accordingly, Ms Wyatt’s claims will be heard by the High Court. The court must have regard to the factors set out in section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and given the delay, the fact that the assets that Mr Vince has acquired are entirely post separation, it is unlikely that Ms Wyatt will succeed in her claim for 1.9million pounds but it is possible that she may receive a lump sum payment.

It will be interesting to see whether the High Court will impose a time limit for a party to a marriage to make a claim for financial orders. If Ms Wyatt had re-married then she would not have been able to claim.

Lynda Merrell-Jones

Solicitor/Director and Family Law Mediator