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Don’t lose your decree absolute

We’ve all done it. Pushed to the back of a drawer a document which we know is important but which we’d frankly rather forget all about.

But a recent case, in which James Power could not find his decree absolute almost 20 years after his divorce, serves as a reminder of how keeping this vital document safe really can save you an awful lot of time, trouble and expense.

Incredibly, it was his ex-wife, Maria Vidal, – living the other side of the world in Australia – who came to the rescue, digging her copy out of storage 1,000 miles away from where she lived. This then had to be certified by a High Court judge back in the UK.

The solution should have been a lot simpler. It’s possible to request a copy of a decree absolute via the Gov.uk website and this should be fail-safe. Sometimes, however, as in this case, the courts make mistakes and lose things too.

And then things really can get complicated.

What went wrong?

When you get divorced, the Decree Absolute certificate is the proof of this and is sent to both parties. Obviously, it’s an important document, particularly if you want to get married again.

When Mr Power wanted to do just this in 2018, he realised he couldn’t find his copy of the certificate and wrote to the county court where the divorce proceedings were issued, made a formal application for a copy and paid a fee of £50.

Problems began when the court couldn’t find a copy of the decree or the date the order was made.

It turned out the original court file had been destroyed in 2013 despite the Family Court being required by law to keep all Decree Absolutes for 100 years.

Neither was there any record of Mr Powers’ certificate, or indeed any record the divorce had ever taken place, on the Central Family Court’s central index with the assumption being that the paperwork was never sent or had got lost in the post.

How the ex-wife saved the day

The county court involved emailed Ms Vidal who said she wasn’t sure if she still had her copy of the Decree Absolute, but that if she did, it was in storage 1000 miles from where she now lived in Australia.

HM Courts and Tribunal Service then arranged her travel to the storage unit where she did indeed find her copy – which was then provided to the court.

Trouble was, this was not deemed an official copy. The next step was for Mr Justice Mostyn, sitting in the High Court’s Family Division, to pronounce it an ‘authentic and accurate copy of a certified copy of the original Decree Absolute’ and to order court records to be amended and the central index updated.

Sorry about that…

Although Mr Power received an apology from the court for the delay and administrative failures, there is a clear lesson – keep your Decree Absolute safe!

For more information, please contact any member of Wards Solicitors’ Family Law and Divorce Team.

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