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23 year-old divorce decree corrected by High Court

By 27 November 2020News

A final decree of divorce issued 23 years ago contained an incorrect date, the High Court has ruled.

X v Y concerned a couple who married twice – firstly at a secret ceremony in Spain in 1993 not attended by their families, and a second time in England a year later after reconciling with their relatives. The second ceremony would not have been allowed to proceed if they told the registrar about the earlier marriage in Spain because, under English law, they were already married.

Two years later the marriage broke down. Mr X petitioned for divorce on the grounds of adultery and this was not disputed. The final decree absolute, issued in March 1997, quoted the date of their London wedding, ignoring the 53 weeks proceedings this during which they had already been legally married. Two decades later, Mr X made an application to the High Court to set the record straight. The case was presided over Britain’s most senior family law judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, who serves as the President of the Family Division.

Although technically the respondent in the case, Miss Y did not participate and the hearing proceeded without her.

Neither party denied the earlier Spanish wedding which was supported by documentation. Miss Y even asserted that she and Mr X were still legally married because no divorce had taken place in Spain, and she was therefore entitled to a “very substantial” financial settlement.

Mr X insisted he had told his solicitors about the first ceremony during the divorce procedures, and said he could not explain why they had then cited the London date on the final decree absolute. Sir Andrew accepted this claim.

The President agreed to amend he decree with the earlier date. The second ceremony had been conducted correctly, Sir Andrew experienced, but it had held no significance in law:

“That second ceremony, whilst it may have been important in social and emotional terms in bringing both sides of the two families together, had no legal impact on this couple in terms of their legal status. They were already married.”

However, the subsequent divorce had also been legally valid he concluded:

“Although I am satisfied that this court does have jurisdiction to entertain this application, the application and, if it were granted, the order that flows from it, has no impact at all on the status of this couple. They were divorced by a valid order of this court made absolute on 13 March 1997. The impact of the order that I will make today is simply, but importantly, to record that the marriage that was dissolved on that day was the true legal marriage between the couple, namely that celebrated in Madrid on 25 May 1993, and not the subsequent English marriage a year later which had no legal impact on their status. The purpose of today’s order is to resolve and put right that which should have been the case all the way along.

Read the full ruling here.

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