LONDON (AFP) – The divorces of 180 Italian couples registered in courts in England and Wales were on Tuesday declared void after officials uncovered widespread fraud.
The unhappy couples had paid a company in Italy up to £ 3,700 ($6,000, 4,700 euros) to secure “quickie” divorces, sidestepping Italian law, which says that couples have to live apart for three years before legally being able to separate.
The firm used 137 county courts in Britain to hide its tracks, and used one address in Maidenhead, southern England, as proof of residency for 179 couples.
A member of staff at Burnley County Court in northern England spotted two files sharing the same address in February 2012, sparking an investigation.
Thames Valley Police found the scheme had run for two years, with each couple being charged between 3,750 and 4,700 euros.
James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court, ruled that “a decree, whether nisi (conditional) or absolute (final), will be void on the ground of fraud if the court has been materially deceived, by perjury, forgery or otherwise, into accepting that it has jurisdiction to entertain the petition”.