Decades after divorce, UK millionaire faces claim from ex-wife

LONDON (REUTERS) - A penniless British woman seeking financial support from her millionaire ex-husband 22 years after their divorce was told by Britain's Supreme Court on Wednesday that she could pursue her claim, a ruling with implications for other British divorcees.

The judgment could open the door for other people to seek financial settlements in Britain's family courts decades after the breakdown of their marriages.

"This is definitely a judgment that will be referenced in the future in other cases where an individual becomes rich in the years after they divorce," said Marilyn Stowe, senior partner at the firm Stowe Family Law.

She said people should try to agree a final settlement at the time of their divorce if they wanted to avoid being pursued years down the line when they may be much wealthier.

Dale Vince and Kathleen Wyatt were both poor when they married in 1981. They had a son and lived an itinerant lifestyle together until 1984, when they broke up. They were formally divorced in 1992.

After their separation, Vince joined the traveller community and spent about a decade living from hand to mouth in a converted ambulance, attending New Age festivals and anti-nuclear arms protests.

In the early 1990s, he began experimenting with green energy. He started at the Glastonbury music festival where he fixed a windmill to the top of an old pylon, installed batteries at its foot, plugged in four large mobile telephones and offered festival-goers a wind-powered phone service.

From these modest beginnings, Vince, now 53, eventually built up Ecotricity, a green energy business worth an estimated 57 million pounds (S$119 million).

Meanwhile, Wyatt, now 55, and her four children continued to live what the court described as "an unsettled lifestyle", subsisting on state benefits and earnings from low-wage jobs.

Wyatt launched legal action in 2011 asking for 1.9 million pounds from Vince on the basis that she had brought up the couple's son alone with no money from Vince.

Her claim was struck out by the Court of Appeal in 2013, but Wyatt took her case to the Supreme Court which ruled that she had a chance of obtaining a modest settlement.

The Supreme Court was not being asked to rule on whether Wyatt should receive money from Vince or not, but rather on whether her case should have been considered fully rather than struck out summarily on the basis it was too late.

The Supreme Court said Wyatt's claim faced "formidable difficulties" but she did have childcare arguments on her side. The case will now continue in a lower family court.

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