One of the UK’s most senior judges has called for more rigorous checks after 179 divorce applications gave the same bogus address.
Dozens of Italian couples had applied to end their marriage, giving a fictitious address in Maidenhead, Berkshire, as their place of residence.
An Italian company was revealed to be behind the massive fraud, charging couples up to £3700 to arrange the divorce.
The aim was to circumvent Italy’s slow-moving judicial system; couples in the Mediterranean country can only petition for divorce if they have lived apart for at least three years.
The address, which in actual fact was just a mailbox at a commercial premises, was given as proof that petitioners had lived in the UK for more than a year (which would allow them to make a divorce application to the English courts).
This week, Sir James Munby, president of the family division, ruled that the applications were all void on the grounds of fraud. It made no difference that a decree absolute had been declared in more than half of cases or that some of the couples had already remarried.
He said the complicated conspiracy – which had gone unnoticed for 18 months- had been made easier because of rules which allow individuals to petition any county court in England or Wales.
Sir James believes that plans currently being considered by HM Courts and Tribunals Service, which would dramatically reduce the number of courts which can handle petitions, will make this type of fraud far more difficult.
Although he has also recommended that parties applying for a decree nisi be required to complete a “statement of truth” and that addresses used in divorce petitions should be cross-checked against other cases.