Yes! A recent case has highlighted again that fraudulent divorce is possible, but confirmed that any decrees obtained in this way are capable of being set aside. If the perpetrator has remarried (which is often the motivation behind the deception), the offence of bigamy is likely to have been committed.
A divorce made in 2010 has been set aside after it was discovered that the wife’s signature was forged on official court documents by the husband. It was in 1978 in Slough that Rachpal and Kewal Randhawa were married. They separated in 2009, although continued to attend family events as husband and wife. Mr Randhawa married another woman in 2011, with whom he had a child. Mrs Randhawa reported that she was aware of the rumours of another child, but said that she did not know that he was married to anyone else. She believed that she was still married to him, although they were separated.
The Judge in the case decided that Mr Randhawa was the only person with opportunity and motive to ensure that the divorce proceeded and as such, set aside the divorce decree. It is clear therefore that for a divorce to be valid, both parties must be aware of, and participate in, the proceedings (unless a Court rules otherwise).
The divorce in this case was dealt with on paper, requiring wet signatures of both Mr and Mrs Randhawa. The Judge accepted that Mr Randhawa must have forged his wife’s signature on the Acknowledgement of Service.
Very few divorces are now dealt with on paper, and it is intended that all applications will be via the online divorce portal in due course. It will remain to be seen what effect this will have on the incidence of fraud, and indeed whether the new no-fault divorce law will have a further impact. As happened in the above case, it can take several years for the fraud to become apparent.
Where the first marriage has not been properly dissolved before the second is entered into, the offence of bigamy is committed. This carries a maximum custodial sentence on conviction of seven years, and a fine, or both.
In this case it is not clear whether Mr Randhawa has committed the offence of bigamy; this depends upon whether his second marriage ceremony is recognised under English law. However, if the marriage was conducted in line with English law (by a Registrar, for example, meeting all of the necessary requirements), he will have committed an offence. It is vital therefore, that if you wish to enter into a second marriage, you are certain that any previous marriage(s) have first been properly dissolved.
If you are considering divorce and wish to understand your options, or if you have concerns about possible fraudulent divorce, contact one of our experts.
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