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Divorce order stands after solicitors applied for wrong client

At Davis & Co, we ensure that everything related to your divorce and any financial settlement is checked and checked again. Furthermore, we are never complacent about our clients or their matters.

The High Court has refused to set aside a final divorce order granted after solicitors mistakenly applied online on behalf of the wrong couple.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division, said the authorities in Williams v Williams made clear that a final order made without procedural irregularity ‘should stand for all the world’.

Solicitors from national firm Vardags had used the HMCTS online divorce portal to apply for a final order of divorce for another client but inadvertently opened the Williams file and proceeded to apply for a final order in that case.

The final order was duly granted, and the judge ruled that there were insufficient grounds for the court to set it aside.

‘There is a strong public policy interest in respecting the certainty and finality that flows from a final divorce order and maintaining the status quo that it has established,’ he said.

Sir Andrew McFarlane: final order made without procedural irregularity ‘should stand for all the world’

The parties had separated after 22 years in January 2023 and the wife issued an application for divorce. She was allowed to apply for a final order of divorce from September last year.

Her solicitors used the portal on 3 October to apply in error for a final order and it was granted 20 minutes later.

Vardags discovered the mistake two days later and immediately applied for the order to be set aside. The application was made without notice to the husband’s solicitors (although they were subsequently informed of events) and a deputy district judge made an order purporting to set it aside.

The wife’s solicitors wrote to the husband’s solicitors saying they remained married, but this was not accepted by the husband who sought a High Court hearing.

The wife’s lawyers submitted in court that there were four procedural options for setting the divorce order aside. They described the error as being ‘clicking the wrong button’ and said the electronic application should not have been granted.

The husband’s lawyers said there was no authority in which a decree absolute had been set aside where there had been complete procedural regularity.

McFarlane agreed there was no authority for setting aside an order where the court had acted correctly, and he was reluctant to open a stage in divorce proceedings where a party could come back and say an application was made by mistake. The wife’s application to set aside the divorce order was dismissed, with the judge adding: ‘If the wife has a remedy for what has occurred, it is through an action for negligence against her solicitors and not by seeking to set aside the final order.’

Source Law Gazette dated 1 April 2024


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