9 October 2014 by

Munby sets aside 180 divorces after “industrial scale” scam unveiled

Last week it was revealed that Sir James Munby, the head of the Family Court, has set aside a total of 180 divorce petitions suspected of being “procured by fraud”. It was reported that 71 of those cases where at the initial stages of divorce, 18 at Decree Nisi and 91 having been granted a Decree Absolute.

The cases primarily involved Italian nationals who claimed to be living in England and Wales when they were not. This entitled them to apply for the divorce here, rather than having to apply in Italy. By establishing jurisdiction here the parties involved hoped to obtain a divorce quicker than in Italy where there is a bar on applying for divorce until you have been separated for a period of at least three years.

How was the fraud detected and how could this have happened here?

The alarm was raised by a diligent Court clerk who noticed that two applicants appeared to be living at the same address in Maidenhead. Subsequent police investigations revealed that the address was in fact a mailbox for commercial premises and not a residential property. The investigations also revealed that the same address was also used for other divorce applications issued at other courts across England and Wales.

On setting aside the divorces Sir Munby explained that the fraud in these cases was not detected earlier as the rules permitted divorce applications to be filed in courts anywhere in England and Wales. He believes that the changes to the rules last April will prevent this from reoccurring. The new rules provide for applications to be issued at centralised locations thus limiting the possibility of fraudsters using different courts to abuse the system.

Will this prevent a repeat of such fraud taking place again? Possibly; limiting the courts at which applications can be issued will make it far easier for individual centralised courts to spot such fraud in the future. I am however surprised that in this day and age with advances in technology there is not a centralised database where all this information can be stored. It would then be a relatively simple process, if not automatic, to detect any ambiguities or irregularities at an early stage before proceedings are even issued.

Perhaps the new centralised processing centres should also request proof of identification and address, to force applicants to prove their right to apply in England and Wales from the outset of the proceedings.

It will be interesting to see how the new centralised Court system will work in practice and whether it will prevent such fraud from reoccurring.

If you require advice regarding a family matter please contact Georgina Stavrou on 020 7288 4763 or georginastavrou@boltburdon.co.uk

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