Yesterday, I read a story in the Daily Mail about a Surrey woman who discovered her husband was a convicted paedophile after their wedding and has apparently been unable to divorce him for five years. I found this incredible, especially since she had reportedly taken legal advice.
While the couple were on their honeymoon in Brighton, the wife’s grandmother discovered a number of indecent images of children on a laptop which the husband had used. They then discovered he had previously spent two years in prison for owning and exchanging several thousand images of child abuse.
Following these revelations, the husband pleaded guilty to possession of the images found on the grandmother’s laptop. He was fined £85 and given an 18-month community order.
His wife told the Daily Mail that she experienced “a mix of relief, complete devastation and disbelief” when he was convicted. Divorce would be “the final step in moving on”, she added.
However, she has so far been unable to secure a divorce. She claims that her husband has changed his name and whereabouts numerous times and, as a result, divorcing him has proved impossible.
She is still trying to obtain a decree nisi, which is the first of the two decrees needed before a divorce is completed. The second and final of those is the decree absolute. At that point, the marriage is dissolved.
She now hopes to secure a divorce by claiming she has been separated from her husband for five years. But frankly I wonder why?
Personally I am at a loss to understand why she didn’t immediately petition for a declaration of nullity, as a “voidable” marriage, given she would never have married him once she knew the truth. She wouldn’t have needed to wait for twelve months to divorce. She could have done it straight away, pleading mistake in the nullity petition. The procedure is straightforward and the petition can be found online. It costs £550 – the same as a divorce. It’s worth noting that if a declaration of nullity is obtained, financial claims remain exactly the same as on divorce.
A divorce on the other hand cannot be obtained until 12 months has passed since the marriage and can only be obtained by demonstrating that the marriage has irretrievably broken down: based on one of five facts, namely unreasonable behaviour, adultery and desertion for two years. Consent is not required for any, and for petitions on the basis of adultery or unreasonable behaviour there is no wait period, only the passage of a mandatory 12 month period from the date of the marriage. Or the couple can divorce by consent on the basis of two years separation or where consent is not forthcoming, that they have been separated for five years. It’s all confusing and at some point perhaps couples will be able to divorce “on demand” when they both simply agree, the marriage has irretrievably broken down. No need for recrimination, shame or looking backwards. Instead a civilised decree of divorce and also within a civilised period of breakdown of the marriage. Making couples wait too long after this decision can also be harmful.
So back to the lady in the story, and after 12 months of marriage, as she didnt apply for a decree of nullity, she could simply issue a divorce petition based on his unreasonable behaviour. And as he couldn’t be traced, at the same time she could apply to the court for permission to dispense with service of the petition on him. She could proceed thereafter without worrying about where he is at all, and she could apply straight away for decree nisi and six weeks later, for decree absolute. It is all much quicker than in the usual case where service has to take place and an Acknowledgement of Service returned to the court by the other spouse before an application could be made for Decree Nisi. Only then could she apply assuming all was well where she does know how to serve him with the papers.
This lady has no need to worry and can easily and quickly get her divorce. She can catch up on all that wasted time. I did tweet the journalist and Daily Mail Online but didn’t get a reply.
Photo by jeff4379 via Flickr