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Family Law

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Court of Protection Practice and Procedure Conference 2016

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02 OCT 2014

Centralised divorce processing by this time next year

Centralised divorce processing by this time next year
The President of the Family Division’s judgment in Rapsidara v Colladon [2014] EWFC 35 indicates that, within a year, there will be fewer than 20 courts in which divorces can be processed.

Rapsidara v Colladon concerned 180 divorces of Italian nationals. The divorces had progressed to various stages (some were simply at petition stage, some at decree nisi stage and in some the decree absolute had been pronounced).

It transpired that 179 of the 180 divorcing couples concerned had falsely claimed that one of them lived at an address in Maidenhead (the same address was used in each case) and in the remaining case the couple concerned used an address in Epsom. Neither address was actually a residence at all, but simply a mail box used to satisfy the habitual residence requirement of the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973, s 5 (as amended) and EC Council Regulation No 2201/2003.

The 180 petitions were issued in 137 different courts across England and Wales in an attempt to avoid the use of the same address being noticed. It was only when a member of the court staff at Burnley County Court noticed that the same address had been used before that the fraud came to light.

Ultimately, the President dismissed the petitions and, where decrees had been pronounced, set them aside on the grounds of fraud.

At the end of the judgment, the President indicated that it was apparent that the divorce process had aided this mass fraud but noted that, for unconnected reasons, the process would shortly change. As indicated in his  View from the President’s Chambers: The process of reform: an update [2014] Fam Law 1259, at p 1262, the divorce process is in the midst of becoming centralised so that all divorce petitions will be issued, and special procedure divorces processed, at less than 20 locations (the President indicated the number could in fact be as low as 12 locations).

In an attempt to minimise the future risk of fraud such as that seen in Raspsidara v Colladon, the new centralised process is also likely to require statements of truth to be signed at both petition and (in the case of special procedure divorces) decree nisi stage with warning notices clearly stating the penalties for false statements. As and when HMCTs’ IT systems and resources allow the new process is also likely to require a search of the FamilyMan system to check whether either party’s address has been used in a divorce previously.

The full judgment for In the Matter of 180 Irregular Divorces; Rapisarda v Colladon (No. 2) [2014] EWFC 35 is available here.

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