The President of the Family Division has annulled the divorces of 180 Italian couples after declaring they were obtained fraudulently.
In Rapisarda v Colladon (Irregular Divorces), Sir James Munby found that the scheme involved at least one member of each couple claiming to live in Britain. In fact, 179 couples used the same address in Maidenhead on their applications. The other couple claimed residence at an address in Epsom.
The divorce petitions were submitted to a number of different local courts throughout the country in order to avoid the deception being uncovered. However, in February 2012, a staff member at Burnley County Court became suspicious when she spotted that two Italian couples had claimed to live at the same address.
Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the given address “was not a residential address at all but a PO Box service” and that it would be “impossible for 179 people (or any) to reside at that address.”
The enterprise was run by a woman who went by the name of Dr Frederica Russo. She charged the couples between €3,750 and €4,700 for her services.
Sitting in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Sir James Munby ruled that the divorce applications had all been “founded on a lie” and that the English courts had been “induced by fraud to accept that it had jurisdiction”.
Sir James also noted that one of the people who obtained a divorce this way “has subsequently remarried and had a child”. Despite this potential difficulty, he annulled all 180 divorce cases.
During the judgment, the President also announced that by this time next year there will be fewer than 20 centres in England and Wales where people can apply for a divorce.
He said that having “possibly as few as a dozen” places where a divorce petition can be issued would prevent fraud on this scale from happening again.
To read the full judgment, click here.