Senior Judge warns divorced couples they aren’t actually divorced

    Senior Judge warns divorced couples they aren’t actually divorced

    This blog post relates to previous divorce laws. On 6 April 2022, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 was implemented, heralding no-fault divorce. Read more in our blog post: No-fault divorce – the end of the blame game

    Senior family Judge, Sir James Munby, has today issued a warning that staff at the so-called divorce centres have made a number of errors in processing divorce petitions. As a result, couples who had been told that they were divorced, in fact, aren’t.

    As Sir James says, this could have a “devastating impact” upon the couples involved, not least if, relying upon the notification from the Court, they have subsequently gone on to remarry.

    How has this happened?

    Some years ago the divorce process was removed from local Courts and centralised at the divorce centres. In theory, this should have meant that the divorce process was streamlined and made more efficient but, in reality, decisions that were previously made by Judges are now being made by Court staff, known as legal advisors.

    Our experience suggests that a number of errors are being made by the legal advisors, which can often draw out the process giving rise to expense and frustration, adding to what for many is already a distressing experience.

    The dangers of DIY divorce

    Couples who have had access to expert independent legal advice are not likely to have been caught up in the errors made by Court staff. However, changes to the Court processes, some of which are now accessible online, have given rise to people trying to “go it alone”, which has resulted in the errors made by Court staff going unnoticed.

    Read more: Is DIY divorce worth the risk?

    No-one is entitled to obtain a decree of divorce until they have been married for at least 12 months. Woe betide the couple who applied before that 12 month period was up, even on the final day of the 12 months, rather than the following day, because they were not entitled to a divorce.

    It appears that a number of Court staff overlooked errors and so petitions were issued when they should not have been. Further, a number of couples who sought a divorce on the basis that they had lived apart for either 2 or 5 years also made errors which were not picked up by the Court staff. They too have been told they were divorced, when in fact they are not.

    What if I have remarried?

    For anyone who, having relied upon the Decree Absolute issued by the Court, has remarried they will now be advised that their remarriage is not valid. Couples may have spent substantial sums celebrating marriages which they may now be told are in fact bigamous.

    To top it all, bigamy is a criminal offence punishable by up to 7 years in prison.

    Although there is talk of fast tracking a valid divorce for those caught up in this debacle (but no talk yet of compensation), it is a timely reminder that the divorce process is complex, particularly if there are children involved or assets to be divided.

    Read more: What is a clean break order in divorce?

    Any couple seeking a divorce should give active consideration to obtaining independent expert advice from a trained lawyer, not least so they can be sure that they really are divorced when the Court tells them they are.

    Are you considering getting a divorce? Download our free guide and find out the six key decisions you need to make.

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