Imagine accidentally being divorced and unable to reverse it. This unfortunate scenario happened when a staff member at the law firm, Vardag’s, went to apply for a final divorce order for a client, but accidentally opened the file of Mr and Mrs Williams. Just 21 minutes later, the wrong couple was divorced.


Mr and Mrs Williams had separated in January 2023 after 22 years of marriage when Mrs Williams filed an application for divorce. Her solicitors then used the online portal to apply for a final order of divorce in error, before discovering their mistake 2 days later. Despite them applying for the order to be set aside, claiming that they were still married, the husband did not accept this and went to the High Court.


The High Court ruled last week that despite the error made by the solicitor who selected the wrong client, the final order for divorce must be upheld.  They added that there was no precedent for the overturning of an order where there is no procedural irregularity. Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division, stated: ‘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.” By setting aside the finality of this order, he added that it risks a party claiming that an application for divorce was made by mistake.


Final orders for divorce are made using the HM Courts and Tribunal online divorce portal, part of a range of measures which have been brought in to simplify divorce in the UK. However, Ayesha Vardag, the founder of Vardag’s, criticised the lack of checks when using the platform, outlining that the mistake was as simple as clicking the wrong name on a drop-down menu.


She added: “The courts shouldn’t change people’s marital status based on a slip on an online portal. Whether the person makes the slip themselves or their lawyer does. It goes against the principle of intention which suffuses our law. It’s absurd that we can have orders amended under the “slip rule” and everyone understands it happens, but when it’s a slip on the portal it’s set in stone.”


Known as the ‘Diva of divorce’, Vardag has acted on behalf of a number of high status and high net worth individuals in settlements worth tens of millions of pounds. She and her firm have pledged their full support to the staff member who made the mistake.


Our thoughts


The nature of the relationship between the solicitor and the client means that in this situation, there was nothing that the client could do to remedy the situation. The judge had already issued a conditional order before, and there was no procedural irregularity as previously explained. The act of applying for a final order for divorce is very simple, with no detailed check at this final stage of the process.



Divorce process stages


In the majority of cases, the process of applying for divorce is simple as long as you and your spouse both agree to divorce and cooperate. with the Court proceedings. The stages and timeframes in the process include the following:


  • To start a divorce, we (on your behalf, the applicant) will need to file an application with the Court.
  • After the Court has issued your divorce application, the Court will send the application to your spouse (the respondent), where the respondent has to say whether or not they intend to dispute the divorce etc.
  • Applying for the Conditional Order, the application for such an order cannot be submitted to the Court unless 20 weeks have elapsed from the issue of proceedings (not submission).
  • Applying for the Final Order, you will have to wait a further six weeks after the date of the conditional order to apply for the final divorce order.

– The overall timeframe for divorce proceedings is around 10 to 12 months. This can vary depending on the current timescales. and workload of the Court.

– Please note that financial and children arrangements may delay the process further.


Do I need to divide the matrimonial assets in a divorce?


Financial settlement legal processes are completely separate from the divorce itself. Once you start your divorce; it is strongly advisable to deal with your financial matters at the same time to avoid unexpected claims from your former spouse in the future. If you are able to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on the finance division, you may wish to apply to the Court to endorse your agreement in order to obtain a clean break. This can be achieved by applying for a Consent Order.


When filing a Consent Order, the Court requires full and frank disclosure of your assets, liabilities and income from both of you to ensure that your agreement is fair. It is important to note that a Consent Order for divorce can only be applied once the Conditional Order is made. If you and your spouse are unable to agree on the terms, you can negotiate with the help of solicitors, attend mediation or apply for a financial order in Court. Please note that the Court will not make a binding financial order unless you or the respondent ask it to, or unless your separate financial court proceedings have reached a conclusion.


If you have any questions regarding divorce proceedings or financial settlement, feel free to contact us.


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