The Memo: Couple mistakenly divorced after lawyers click wrong button

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Couple mistakenly divorced after lawyers click wrong button

Emily Dunham - 29 April 2024

Let’s cut to the chase: a couple has been divorced by mistake. Don’t panic too much though, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to get divorced at all, but the financial arrangements were yet to be finalisedOf course, that begs the question of how exactly can you get divorced by accident? Well, the couple, referred to in court papers as Mr and Mrs Williams, had initially applied for divorce in January 2023. Mrs Williams’s solicitors at law firm Vardags, which specialises in high and ultra-high net worth family matters, were using the online divorce portal operated by HM Courts and Tribunals Service. They clicked the wrong name on a drop-down menu in the portal, and the speedy service granted their divorce order in a swift 21 minutes. Upon realising their mistake, solicitors at Vardags quickly applied for the order to be rescinded, and Mr Williams was informed by his solicitors who had received contact from the firm just under a week later. 

The case went before Judge McFarlane, president of the High Court’s Family Division, but he rejected the wife’s arguments that the order should be revoked. Instead, he decided that the divorce order was not voidable based on her lack of consent, as her solicitors could validly act on her behalf in this way. He said that it was in the interests of public policy to respect the finality of a divorce order, so did not rescind the application. Vardags has heavily criticised this decision, claiming that a clerical error should not allow the state to divorce people. However, Judge McFarlane made it clear that this mistake was not simply the click of one button, as “like many similar online processes, an operator may only get to the final screen where the final click of the mouse is made after travelling through a series of earlier screens.”  

You must have heard that it’s crucial for solicitors to have good attention to detail, so make sure that’s the case if you’re looking to pursue a legal careerAfter all, you don’t want to divorce the wrong couple if you can help it because, evidently, it’s not a mistake that can easily be reversed!