Can I Be Divorced Without Knowing It?

28 August 2018

In England and Wales, it is possible for you to be divorced without knowing it. This is because a divorce petition does not always require a response from the other person in order for the divorce to be granted by the Court.

How Could I Be Divorced Without Knowing?

In order to grant a divorce in England and Wales, the law requires the person requesting the divorce to prove that the relationship has broken down to a point where it cannot be saved. The reason for this breakdown must be cited as one of the following 5 reasons (or 'facts'):

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Unreasonable Behaviour
  • 2 Years' Separation (with consent from both sides)
  • 5 Years' Separation (without consent from both sides)

If someone wishes to divorce their spouse on the grounds of desertion, then the spouse will not necessarily have to consent to the divorce. If the person applying for the divorce (the Petitioner) can prove that their spouse has deserted them and that they have made reasonable attempts to contact them, the Court may agree to grant a divorce without the other person (the Respondent) acknowledging this.

The same is true for a divorce on the basis of 5 years' separation – if the spouse simply cannot be located or contacted, then it may be possible for them to be divorced by their husband or wife without their knowledge.

Attempts will be made in both of these circumstances to contact the other person and to notify them of the divorce proceedings. In some cases, it could simply be a matter that they have failed to pick up their post.

The other situation in which someone could be divorced by their spouse without their knowledge is on the basis of unreasonable behaviour. This is the only 'fact' for divorce that does not require the other person to complete and return the 'acknowledgement of service' from the Court. This is a form in which the Respondent can acknowledge receipt of the divorce petition and they (or their Solicitor) can respond to this.

It could be that a contributing factor to their unreasonable behaviour is their refusal to reply to correspondence. Or they may have behaved in a violent or aggressive way in which case it could be in the Petitioner's best interests to not correspond with them.

In order to be granted a divorce on the basis of adultery or 2 years' separation, the other person will need to complete and return the 'acknowledgement of service' (or their Solicitor can do this for them). The Petitioner will only be able to apply to the Court to finalise their divorce once these forms have been completed and returned by the Respondent.

Divorce on the Basis of Deemed Service

Regardless of which 'fact' is being cited in divorce, if the Respondent has received the acknowledgement of service but is choosing to ignore it, then it is possible for the Court to grant a divorce on the basis of 'deemed service.' This is where the Court deems that the Respondent has received the acknowledgement of service, even if they have failed to complete and return the document.

Any evidence that the Respondent has received the paperwork can be used to prove to the Court that they have received this and are refusing to respond. This could even be in the form of a text message, a social media post or an email saying that they've had the divorce paperwork through.

Can I Find Out If I Am Divorced?

In England and Wales, finding out if you're divorced is not a particularly straightforward process. There is no central register of divorces in England and Wales. Instead, records will be held by individual County Courts.

If you know which County Court is likely to have dealt with your divorce, then you could contact them to enquire. If you don't know which County the potential divorce is likely to have taken place in, then you could find yourself conducting a lengthy and frustrating search.

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