Sir James Munby, the outgoing President of the Family Division, has had a number of divorce cases brought to his attention. It appears that a number of Decree Nisis and Absolutes have been incorrectly granted, as they did not meet the required time limits.
There are strict timeframes for when a petitioner can submit a divorce petition; couples must have been married for an entire year before being able to submit a petition. It appears that, in some cases, a full year had not passed before the petitions were sent to the divorce centres. In other cases, divorces were processed despite there not being the full required separation period of either 2 years or 5 years.
Since the introduction of regional divorce centres in 2015, the paperwork is routinely handled and processed by legal advisers who are supervised by Judges. As the legal advisers are not necessarily legally trained, it is perhaps not surprising that there have been some errors in the processing of legal documentation and applications.
Sir James Munby has referred some cases to the Queen’s Proctor. In cases where the petition had been issued before a full year of marriage had passed, the Decree Nisi and Absolute would be invalid. This means that those affected by such cases and who thought they were legally divorced are not and, in fact, still married to their [former] spouse. For those who went on to marry again, it means that these marriages are not legally recognised, although it is highly unlikely that any bigamy charges will be brought against those marrying without a valid divorce. In some instances, where a decree has not been issued, the judge looking at that petition may allow it to be amended by the petitioner.
The Family Division's President also issued some guidance for the interim period: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/pfd-guidance-divorce-2018.pdf
In his guidelines, Munby has urged that HMTCS communications to those litigants affected be “expressed in appropriately sympathetic and apologetic language”.
If you are one of those affected by this issue and would like to speak to a family lawyer about your options as well as any potential repercussions, contact Oratto today on 0845 3883765 to speak with a family law adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.