Decree Absolute, absolute nightmare

An amusing, albeit cautionary, judgement has recently been released in relation to a case where an ex-husband couldn’t find his copy of his Decree Absolute. The document was urgently needed for him to remarry. In a surprising twist, it transpired that the court hadn’t retained a copy either, despite being required to do so for 100 years! By a stroke of good luck, his ex-wife – now living in Australia – had retained a certified copy which Mr Justice Mostyn was then able to rely upon and make a court declaration confirming their divorce. 

During my time working at a London media law firm, I represented a musician who was getting married for the fourth time, this time in the United States. Very shortly before the wedding, he found out that the state in question required not only copies of all three Decree Absolutes, but also all three original marriage certificates, before they would allow the wedding to take place. The musician had retained no copies at all and so we had to obtain copies of all the documents expeditiously, completely relying upon the registry office and court to have retained all original documents. If the client had been in the unfortunate position that the gentleman in this case had found himself, then his wedding would have inevitably been postponed, no doubt at great financial and emotional cost. 

At Hedges we always advise clients to make sure that they keep a copy of their Decree Absolute in a safe place, and this case reinforces why this is quite so important. Clearly the court cannot be relied upon to always retain accurate records and whilst solicitors do tend to keep copies, they are only really required to do so for 6 years. 

The Decree Absolute could not be found by the court, nor could the court confirm the date upon which it had been granted. It also transpired that the original case file had been destroyed by the court in 2013, despite the agreed HMCTS record and retention policy directing that key documents within divorce proceedings should be retained for a total of 100 years. There was no trace of the file in storage, no information with the Office of National Statistics, nor a record of the Decree Absolute on the central index pursuant to the Family Procedure Rules.