Judge dismisses 28 “identical” divorce petitions from online provider

Divorce: Petitions have been resubmitted

The High Court has dismissed 28 divorce petitions drafted by online service iDivorces because they contained “absolutely identical” particulars.

The company said it had been trying prematurely to push towards no-fault divorce, which will be introduced next year.

Mr Justice Moor warned Matthew Eastham, director of unregulated firm iDivorces, that he had considered referring the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as potentially amounting to the crime of perverting the course of justice.

Mr Eastham told Legal Futures that the 28 clients involved had all resubmitted their divorce petitions with amended reasons and described Moor J as “fantastic and very understanding”.

He described having to prove fault as “so old hat” and said the company’s standard divorce petition was “trying to use amicable and neutral language that did not point the finger”.

Mr Eastham said iDivorces had signed statements from all 28 clients saying they had been given the opportunity to change their statements.

“We were trying to push things more towards no fault, but the law is the law and the grounds were just too similar.”

Mr Eastham said iDivorces, which is based in Truro and employs eight staff, would not be changing its processes as a result of the ruling, but he was looking to recruit an in-house counsel.

Delivering judgment in Re Yorston and others (Matrimonial Causes Act 1973: Improper Petitions) [2021] EWFC 80, Moor J said: “Different spouses behave in different ways. It is quite impossible for each of 28 respondents to have behaved in exactly the same way as the other 27.”

The judge said the petitions – drafted and filed by iDivorces, although technically each petitioner was acting in person – contained “absolutely identical” particulars of behaviour and could not “all be true”.

The allegations were in each case that the respondent became “moody without justification” and argumentative for a year before the separation for at least two days a week, making the petitioner’s life “very uncomfortable”, and ignored the petitioner and declined to communicate for two days a week, making the petitioner’s life “very difficult”.

It was alleged that the respondent “showed no interest in leading the life of a married woman/man for about a year before the separation”, going out socially “on his/her own” and excluding the petitioner from “from his/her life thereby making him/her feel very dejected”.

Moor J said: “I make it absolutely clear that those particulars are exactly the sort of particulars that I would expect to see in a divorce petition and I would not have blinked an eyelid.

“If proved to be true, I am satisfied that they would be sufficient to found a decree of divorce on the basis of the law as it is at present.

“It is, however, quite impossible for all 28 respondents to have behaved in exactly that way. I regret to have to conclude that, as a result, these petitions are improper.”

Moor J said he accepted that from April 2022 the law would change and there would be no-fault divorce, but until then irretrievable breakdown of the marriage had to be proved in the traditional way.

Moor J said that Mr Eastham apologised in court after being warned that he could be referred to the DPP.

“He has said that it was a misunderstanding and that he thought it was acceptable if he told the petitioners to correct anything that was wrong in the petition. He has confirmed that it will never happen again.”

The judge said that as a result, he had decided there was “insufficient public benefit” in referring the cases to the DPP, but if it did happen again, he would have “no hesitation” in doing so.

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