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Lawyers Warn Of Future Financial Claims If Divorce ‘Not Concluded Properly’

Wife Seeks Settlement 18 Years After Divorce Completed Because of Lack of Financial Order


By Dave Grimshaw

Leading family lawyers are warning divorcing couples to ensure that they take all steps to bring their marriage, and related financial claims to an end on a divorce – or beware of what could be disastrous, and expensive, consequences in later years.

In a recent case decided at the Court of Appeal a wife sought a financial settlement from her husband some 18 years after the original divorce was concluded. Although there was a Decree Absolute made at the time of divorce, there was no corresponding financial order regulating their financial affairs.

Specialist family lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, which has offices across the country, say that it is a common, and potentially disastrous mistake, to fail to secure an additional financial court order which legally records their position, preventing either of them from making any financial claims against the other in the future.

In the case, the couple, who had one child together, had been married for three years before separating in the late 1980s. At the time they separated, they had no financial assets of any significance and were described by the court as having adopted a ‘New Age’ or ‘Traveller creed and lifestyle’.

The wife then went on to have further children with a new partner while the husband began a wind power business some years after their divorce which became very successful and grew into a company worth "many millions". He remarried in 2006 and had a four year old son with his new wife.

The wife then applied for a financial settlement from her former husband in 2011.

Fiona Turner, an expert family lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office, explains: “A former spouse can bring an application for a financial settlement even 10, 20 or 30 years after a divorce is concluded, provided that they have not remarried.

“Unlike many other areas of civil law there is no limitation period and the family court is, in the vast majority of cases, obliged to consider those claims for a settlement based on legal principles which have an overriding objective to seek a fair solution for the family.”

Fiona is now warning couples that, in some cases, it may be appropriate for a financial award to be made a number of years later.

She added: “There may be any number of different scenarios to justify a claim, or reasons to explain why the application has been brought so late but the ultimate fact is that if you do not resolve all aspects of the divorce, including a financial order you risk the chance that you may have to share whatever you earn or acquire in later years.”

In this case, the husband succeeded in having the case thrown out because the Court of Appeal considered that on the individual circumstances, it was not her ex-husbands responsibility to ‘insure’ her against life’s eventualities.

Fiona advises parties to always consider, and obtain, a financial order from the court on a divorce to regulate financial arrangements once and for all.

She said: “In this case, the unexpected, future wealth derived from the former husband’s business endeavours, but as we all know, the future can be unpredictable. Inheritances are received, and lottery tickets won. Each case is different, but to guard against a former spouse claiming a share of later good fortune, expert advice should always be sought from a family lawyer at the time of the divorce itself.

“The husband in this particular case was, perhaps, fortunate that the peculiar circumstances of his case allowed his former wife’s application to be struck out and dismissed, but as the Court of Appeal stressed, applications for strike out will only succeed in rare and exceptional cases.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in Divorce and Family Law.