Is there a time limit on claiming money from an ex-partner after divorce?

01 May 2015

Let me tell you a true story.

It's about a woman, let's call her Kathy, and a man, let's call him Dale. In 1981 Kathy and Dale fell in love. They got married and lived together with Kathy's young daughter. Soon after they married, they bore a son. The family had little; they lived in rented accommodation and survived on benefits.

Sadly the romance was short lived and, after two years, Kathy and Dale separated. The natural world appealed to Dale so he left home and began a traveller's life in the UK and abroad. He had no stable accommodation but, being resourceful, he made campervans from disused ambulances and fire engines. From this point on Kathy and Dale led completely separate lives and rarely encountered each other.

Kathy and the two children moved from pillar to post living in rented accommodation and on traveller sites. She was unable to study or find permanent work whilst caring for the children but she used what she had to provide for them. Dale had no income and so was not in a position to be able to provide money to help Kathy.

Eventually, after they had been apart for almost 10 years, Kathy applied for a divorce and it was granted.

Dale always had a keen interest in science and the environment; whilst on his travels he realised what a useful tool wind energy could be. He moved to the countryside where he was keen to develop wind energy as a resource; he started a company creating wind turbines. These turbines become hugely popular amongst businesses and he began producing green energy for thousands of individuals and companies. Dale's business boomed; before long he became a multi-millionaire.

Dale grew so wealthy that he purchased a castle where he and his son now live. He bought the local football team and gave each of the players "green" electric cars. Dale only allowed the football ground to sell veggie burgers; he even banned the players from eating red meat.

Meanwhile Kathy remained in rented accommodation and continued to live on very little. When Kathy and Dale divorced nothing was agreed regarding their finances. At the time neither had any income, assets or other wealth; it was only later that Dale came to be worth a reported £100 million.

There's no time limit on pursuing a financial settlement, so, 20 years after the divorce was finalised, Kathy applied for a sum of money from her now-extremely-wealthy-ex-husband. As Kathy had not remarried she was still eligible to apply for financial provision.

Dale fought Kathy's application arguing that he had made his money a long time after they had separated and he had received no help from her financially or otherwise. He felt that out of principle she should not be able to make a claim on his money and that a dangerous precedent would be set if she could. He almost succeeded in getting her application struck out forcing Kathy to pursue her request all the way to the Supreme Court. The judges recognised that Kathy had been the primary carer for the children and, although her claim for financial provision was delayed, Kathy was nonetheless able to apply.

A Family Court now has the job of deciding what and how much Kathy will receive from Dale. Despite her ex-husband's wealth, Kathy is likely to receive a very modest amount. But that's not the point. The point is that 20 years post divorce, Kathy will be in receipt of financial provision from her ex-husband. A judge who heard Kathy's case in the Supreme Court said that she may be entitled to claim enough to enable her "to purchase a somewhat more comfortable, and mortgage-free, home for herself and her remaining dependants." We now wait with baited breath to learn what Kathy will receive.  

Moral of the story? Finalise your finances in the event of divorce. Without a Financial Order, an ex-spouse is able to pursue a claim on your wealth years later. The only way to finalise matters and to prevent a later claim on any wealth you have now or in the future, is to have a Financial Order prepared and approved. Wrap the parcel and neatly tie the bow on top. You never know how much you'll be worth in a few years…