In the recent case of Randhawa v Randhawa, a husband was found to have forged his wife's signature on her acknowledgment of service. As a reminder, the current standard process to obtain a divorce involves:
Mr Randhawa, the Petitioner, was found to have forged his wife's signature on the acknowledgment of service in 2010, meaning that for the last 12 years she was completely unaware that divorce proceedings had even started.
The court found that Mr Randhawa had a vested interest to be divorced from Mrs Randhawa without any obstacles or difficulties, as he wished to marry his new partner.
It also meant that Mrs Randhawa did not have the opportunity to issue financial remedy proceedings for a share of the matrimonial assets at that time. This is because, to issue financial remedy proceedings, spouses must have also submitted a divorce petition to the Court. As Mrs Randhawa did not have notice of the divorce and believed she was still married (although separated), she was prevented from taking this action at that time.
The divorce was annulled by the Judge for forgery.
Mr Randhawa submitted his divorce petition when they were completed in a paper format and so any forgery would have required him to fake his wife's signature.
Divorce petitions are now completed online on the HMCTS portal. Some practitioners have warned that fraud could perhaps become even more prevalent with the online system. A Respondent is sent a letter by email, that can be downloaded by both them and the Petitioner, with log-in details to acknowledge service. Any fraudulent attempt such as this would however be illegal and the Petitioner could be fined or imprisoned for contempt of court.
However, with the new 'No Fault Divorce Regime' arriving in April 2022,the Respondent will no longer have the opportunity to defend the divorce petition. With this option no longer available, there may be less of an incentive to commit fraud or forgery to seek to proceed in a divorce without notifying the Respondent.