The recent Family Court case of Randhawa v Randhawa raised the interesting question of what would happen if one party to a marriage filed for divorce and eventually received a decree absolute without the knowledge of their married partner. This also raises serious questions about the fallibility of the divorce system to fraudulent acts, how courts decide whether to set aside a decree absolute where it was gained on a false pretext, and what happens where a final decree is set aside if the guilty party has remarried.
Background to the case of Randhawa v Randhawa
Mr and Mrs Randhawa married in 1978, aged nineteen and sixteen years old, respectively. They went on to have four children, one of whom, Manpreet, died in 2003. Over several years, Mr and Mrs Randhawa invested in residential and commercial properties and, in the words of the judgement, “amassed a small fortune”.
The couple divorced in 2010 after being granted a final decree by Slough County Court. The divorce was granted on the basis that the marriage had irretrievably broken down due to Mrs Randhawa’s unreasonable behaviour. Mr Randhawa went on to remarry and have a child with his new wife.
Mrs Randhawa subsequently submitted a court application to have the final decree set aside for the following reasons:
- She did not receive any notice of the divorce
- The acknowledgement of service document, which told the court she did not wish to defend the divorce, was not signed by her, and
- The signature used for this purpose was a forgery.
In response to the application, Mr Randhawa denied the allegations, asserting that the divorce was genuine and Mrs Randhawa knew about the proceedings and actively engaged in them.
The parties also disagreed on the date of the separation. Mr Randhawa said this happened when he left the family home in October 2009, and there had been discussion of divorce prior to this. Mrs Randhawa denies having knowledge of this and did not know of the divorce until she petitioned for judicial separation in December 2019.
The Judge in the case, therefore, had to decide on the following questions:
a. What was Mrs Randhawa’s knowledge of the divorce Petition dated 22nd January 2010?
b. Did Mrs Randhawa sign the acknowledgement of service that was signed on 11th February 2010? If not,
c. Was the signature forged by Mr Randhawa or on his behalf?
d. Depending on the answers to the above questions, should the decree absolute stand or be dismissed?
The Judge relied on the basic legal principle that the person seeking to rely on a disputed fact must prove that fact.
Forensic Document Examiner confirmed the signatures were forged
Evidence was provided by nine witnesses, including a Forensic Document Examiner. The Forensic Document Examiner confirmed that there was “very strong evidence to support the proposition that the questioned signature was not written by [Mrs Randhawa] but that it is a simulation (freehand copy) of her genuine signature style, by another individual”. Falsified signatures were also used to secure a mortgage in the name of Mrs Randhawa and other property related matters. Despite this, the Judge made it clear that the evidence of the expert was not the determining factor and that this had to be considered “in the context of the wider evidential canvas”.
What did the Judge conclude?
Having heard evidence from nine witnesses over a period of eight days, Judge Moradifar agreed that both parties had a difficult relationship and were devastated by the loss of their son. He stated that Mr Randhawa was “highly evasive and his evidence devoid of any detail” during his testimony when it appeared that the answers he provided might damage his case. The Judge also stated of Mr Randhawa, “I have no doubt that he is a man who would take any necessary steps to achieve his ends and where such steps fall foul of the law or morality, he seeks to deny his conduct unless faced with no other option but to admit the same. In the latter instance, he will seek to divert attention onto others, blame others or become altogether evasive”.
On the key matter of whether Mrs Randhawa signed the Acknowledgement of Service form and hence was given proper notice of her divorce, the Judge reached the following final conclusions:
a. Mrs Randhawa had no notice of the divorce proceedings that were initiated by a Petition for divorce by Mr Randhawa on 22nd January 2010.
b. Mrs Randhawa’s purported signature on the Acknowledgement of Service form dated 11th February 2010 was a forgery.
c. The signature was forged by or on behalf of Mr Randhawa
Judge Moradifar set aside the final decree granted on 22nd January 2010.
The case of Randhawa v Randhawa highlights that any attempt to circumvent the divorce process will be looked on extremely unfavourably in the family courts. The legal implications of taking such a course of action can be extremely complex, especially if the party who used fraud to apply for divorce then goes on to remarry and have children. Where a decree absolute is set aside, the parties effectively remain married and, therefore, any claimed remarriage effectively becomes void. This may then lead to a more serious criminal charge of bigamy. Aside from the criminal charge, this also leaves questions about ownership of marital assets and the joint ownership of any property in the actual and purported marriages.
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