Getting divorced is a traumatic experience but having secured your Decree Absolute from the Court you should be entitled to think that your marriage is at an end and that you can move on with your life. The divorce Court has revealed that Court blunders have resulted in some divorces being incorrectly processed, leaving the divorce ‘’null and void’’. The extent of the problem and the number of families affected hasn’t been revealed by Court officials.
The errors have come about after the Court moved to a new system to process divorce proceedings, designed to deal with the issue of sham marriages and divorces and to save costs. Divorce proceedings are nowadays commenced in divorce centres and the divorce papers are handled by Court staff under the supervision of judges. Mistakes can happen with any official paperwork but the combination of Court change and people not taking legal advice prior to starting divorce proceedings has resulted in divorce petitions:
- Started before couples have been married for a year;
- Started before the couple have been separated for the necessary two years (with consent to a divorce by the other spouse) or five years (without the other spouse’s consent).
If divorce proceedings have been incorrectly processed this may result in:
- The divorce being null and void.
- A requirement to go through the divorce process again ; the Court has said that these divorces could be fast tracked and Court fees waived.
- Any re-marriage being illegal and resulting in a need to remarry after the first divorce has been correctly processed.
- Any financial Court order not being enforceable as financial orders are only capable of being enforced after a Decree Absolute of divorce.
The revelation of Court errors will be a big concern to families but, in my experience, the most common error in divorce proceedings is for the Decree Absolute not to be processed. This error can occur because:
- The application is not made by the person who started the divorce proceedings – either because they think that the Decree Nisi is the final stage of the divorce and they therefore mistakenly think they are divorced or they forget to apply for the Decree Absolute.
- The Court does not process the Decree Absolute application and the error isn’t spotted.
The other common divorce problem that crops up is the loss of the Decree Absolute document. It is important that the Decree Absolute is retained in a safe place as it is evidence of the divorce and therefore will need to be produced if you want to implement a pension sharing order or to remarry. If the Decree Absolute is lost it is possible to apply to the Court for a duplicate but this takes time, especially if you don’t have the original Court divorce paperwork number or know the date of the Decree Absolute. A central search can be carried out to locate the Decree Absolute details but that takes additional time and expense.
Although divorce proceedings are often seen as a paperwork exercise in the separation process it is vital to get them right. That is because getting it wrong leads to a lot of emotional and financial heartache and delay. Many lawyers, Court officials and couples are of the opinion that the current divorce process is unnecessarily complicated, resulting in errors by both Court staff and divorcees. Organisations such as Resolution, the national forum for family lawyers, are calling for reform and for ‘’no fault’’ divorce to make the divorce process less traumatic and simpler. The recent admission of errors by Court staff, and the fallout for the unfortunate couples effected by the mistakes, may create more of an impetus for change.