The President of the Family Division’s judgment in Rapsidara v Colladon  EWFC 35 indicates that, within
a year, there will be fewer than 20 courts in which divorces can be processed.
Rapsidara v Colladon
concerned 180 divorces of Italian nationals.
The divorces had progressed to various stages (some were simply at
petition stage, some at decree nisi stage and in some the decree absolute had
It transpired that 179 of the 180 divorcing couples
concerned had falsely claimed that one of them lived at an address in
Maidenhead (the same address was used in each case) and in the remaining case
the couple concerned used an address in Epsom.
Neither address was actually a residence at all, but simply a mail box
used to satisfy the habitual residence requirement of the Domicile and Matrimonial
Proceedings Act 1973, s 5 (as amended) and EC Council Regulation No 2201/2003.
The 180 petitions were issued in 137 different courts across
England and Wales in an attempt to avoid the use of the same address being
noticed. It was only when a member of
the court staff at Burnley County Court noticed that the same address had been
used before that the fraud came to light.
Ultimately, the President dismissed the petitions and, where
decrees had been pronounced, set them aside on the grounds of fraud.
At the end of the judgment, the President indicated that it
was apparent that the divorce process had aided this mass fraud but noted that,
for unconnected reasons, the process would shortly change. As indicated in his
View from the President’s Chambers: The process of reform: an update Fam Law 1259, at p 1262, the divorce process is in the midst of becoming
centralised so that all divorce petitions will be issued, and special procedure
divorces processed, at less than 20 locations (the President indicated the
number could in fact be as low as 12 locations).
In an attempt to
minimise the future risk of fraud such as that seen in
Raspsidara v Colladon, the new centralised process is also likely
to require statements of truth to be signed at both petition and (in the case
of special procedure divorces) decree nisi stage with warning notices clearly
stating the penalties for false statements.
As and when HMCTs’ IT systems and resources allow the new process is
also likely to require a search of the FamilyMan system to check whether either
party’s address has been used in a divorce previously.