The U.K.’s Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case that some say could have far-reaching consequences for individuals who get rich after they divorce their spouses.
The Daily Mail reports that Kathleen Wyatt claims she feared her ex-husband, Dale Vince, would “become violent” after she went to him years ago asking for money to help support her children.
Wyatt married Vince in 1981 when the two were reportedly penniless and traveling England while living on state benefits. The couple had one child while they were married, and Vince helped to support Wyatt’s other child from a previous relationship. The hippie-like couple divorced in 1992, still broke. After the divorce, Vince lived for a time in an old ambulance powered by a home-made wind turbine.
He went on, though, to found Ecotricity, one of the U.K.’s largest green energy companies, which is estimated to be worth about $140 million, according to the Financial Times.
Vince is said to have a personal net worth exceeding $160 million. He lives, with his new wife and their young child, in a roughly $4 million estate.
Wyatt, now 55, says she is so poor she has to travel by bus and occasionally sleeps in the bus station.
She said she went to Vince in the early 1990s for money but was “fobbed off.”
“He said he could not help because his business was too much of a strain on his resources,” Wyatt said. "I didn’t know what to do, so in 1995 I contacted the Child Support Agency."
That was the same year Vince founded Ecotricity.
But investigations into his personal finances caused Vince to become “abusive” according to Wyatt. That was why, she says, she dropped the claim.
Philip Cayford, who is representing Wyatt before the court, said Vince repeatedly denied her pleas for help, even though his finances improved significantly in 1997.
“All the way through the 1990s and 2000s, she was clearly asking for assistance,” Cayford said. "It’s a sorry state that … in 2007 when the business was clearly flying … she wasn’t receiving a penny, and was having to borrow money from her son."
Wyatt began another relationship in 1993 and had two more children. She has since split from that partner, and he is reportedly not supporting her financially.
Last year, a family judge threw Wyatt’s case out of court, saying she waited far too long to ask for assistance from Vince.
“This case should not have been struck out,” Cayford told the high court Monday. "We say the Court of Appeal, with the greatest respect, got this wrong."
Arguments in the case are expected to conclude later this week. It is unclear when the judges will render an opinion.