In a case reminiscent of the recent landmark decision in Wyatt v Vince , the ex-wife of the founder of a popular clothing chain has successfully claimed against her husband’s assets some 10 years after pronouncement of Decree Absolute.
The decision in Wyatt saw an ex-wife successfully claim some of her ex-husband’s £55 million fortune, which was accumulated many years after their divorce, on the basis that they had never formally dismissed their financial claims against each other. This decision sent shockwaves throughout the legal world. Many lawyers anticipated that the outcome would open the floodgates to a plethora of similar claims, or give rise to a high number of ex-spouses seeking to avoid such claims being made against them by entering into a Financial Order post-divorce. The outcome of this more recent case demonstrates that the decision in Wyatt is being followed and that many more ex-spouses who failed to enter into a formal settlement agreement at the time of divorce are open to the same risk.
Mr Briers was working as a full-time teacher when he started up a sports and street wear business in the garage of the family home in 1988 with just £81 of his own money. By the time he split with his wife and fellow teacher, Nicola Briers in 2002, after 18 years of marriage and three children, the business was turning over £1 million a year. It has since grown into a major fashion chain, incorporating well-known brands such as Lambretta and turning over up to £30 million a year.
When the couple divorced in 2005, Mr Briers paid his wife a lump sum of £150,000 to pay off the existing mortgage on the family home which was then transferred into her sole name. It was also agreed that she would receive a £10,000 per year income plus child maintenance while Mr Briers retained his business. Mr Briers asserts that this arrangement took the form of a ‘‘verbal agreement” between the parties in which it was agreed that there would be a clean break between them. No formal settlement agreement was ever entered into.
Mrs Briers then exercised her right to apply for a Financial Remedy Order against Mr Briers some 10 years later. Her claim was eligible on the basis that neither party’s right to make a financial claim against the assets of the other had ever been formally dismissed.
Mr Briers argued that Mrs Briers had been given the bulk of all matrimonial assets at the time of separation including the family home. This excluded the business which he argued did not constitute a marital asset for reason that Mrs Briers’ involvement in the business was negligible and that it was his own money that was used to set up and fund the business as opposed to money from the matrimonial pot.
The judge held that the business was in fact a matrimonial asset which was therefore undivided at the time of separation and to which the wife was entitled and also in recognition of her significant contribution as primary carer of the couple’s three children. The judge valued the wife’s entitlement at £2.7 million which gives her 27 per cent of the assets. This is a significant departure from the usual 50/50 assets split, however, the judge held that it represented “a fair resolution”.
The decision in Briers is further evidence of the importance of obtaining a Financial Order which dismisses all future financial claims at the time of divorce rather than leaving matters to chance.
If you would like specialist advice on obtaining a Financial Remedy Order on divorce, or if you are unsure as to whether all future financial claims were closed down at the time of your divorce, please do not hesitate to contact our family team on 020 3814 2020