Eco-energy tycoon fights off ex-wife’s claim

Posted: 10th May 2013

Wind turbineA former New Age traveller turned eco-energy mogul has fought off his ex-wife's bid for a £2 million slice of his huge fortune more than 20 years after they divorced. The Court of Appeal ruled that, given the ‘extreme’ facts of the case and the ‘inordinate’ lapse of time, the ex-wife’s belated application for financial relief amounted to an abuse of process.

Dale Vince moved from living in an old ambulance to founding Ecotricity Limited, the UK's biggest green energy company, and has a personal fortune measured in many millions of pounds. However, when he married fellow traveller, Kathleen Wyatt, in 1981, neither of them had any income or assets and he was ‘the most improbable candidate for affluence.'

Mr Vince met his first wife when they were both polytechnic students and ardent followers of the New Age traveller lifestyle. When they married in their 20s, she already had a daughter and they lived largely on benefits. They had a son together but the only surviving evidence of their divorce was a single piece of paper, all other documents having long ago been shredded.

After their separation, probably in 1984, Mr Vince continued his nomadic lifestyle and made a wind turbine out of retrieved and recycled materials to generate his own energy. From that tiny seed grew Ecotricity which he founded in 1995. The former couple both formed new relationships after their divorce in 1992 but, in contrast to Mr Vince’s spectacular rise, Mrs Wyatt had continued to live hand-to-mouth.

Mr Vince’s attempt to strike out his ex-wife’s application for financial relief was dismissed by a family judge at first instance. Upholding his challenge to that decision, Lord Justice Thorpe ruled that she had left it far too late to seek a part of his fortune and observed: "He is not her insurer against life's eventualities".

The judge added: "Impecuniosity has been the experience of all the wife's adult life. Both the men with whom she has entered into family life were seemingly equally impecunious. Her husband was the most improbable candidate for affluence. She can no doubt appeal to his sense of charity but in my judgment he is not to be compelled to boost her income."

The extent of Mr Vince’s wealth was largely irrelevant to the issue of whether it would be proportionate to make him face his ex-wife’s financial claims so long after their divorce. His defence would be prejudiced by missing evidence and, if the case went ahead, he would face having to pay his ex-wife’s substantial legal costs whether he won or lost.

Lord Justice Jackson observed: "In the family context, there is no statutory bar to bringing a claim for financial relief ten, twenty or even thirty years after the divorce. Nevertheless, in my view, the court should not allow either party to a former marriage to be harassed by claims for financial relief which are issued many years after the divorce and have no real prospect of success. It must be an abuse of the court's process to bring such proceedings. The present case is a classic example of such abuse."