The case of Randhawa v Randhawa reads more like fiction than a legal judgment: there were allegations of forgery; a paternity test; the husband had a previous criminal conviction in France for people trafficking; and the wife admitted to witnessing a bigamous and incestuous marriage between her brother and her (already married) sister.

The parties married in 1976.  They had four children together and built up a portfolio of properties.

The first disagreement related to when the parties separated:

  • The husband claimed that he and his wife discussed divorce in 2008 and that he moved out of the family home in 2009.  In 2010, the husband had a baby with his new partner.
  • The wife claimed that the husband did not move out of the family home until 2011, when a DNA test confirmed he was indeed the baby’s father.  (He had allegedly claimed to be the baby’s grandfather – having used the parties’ deceased son’s gametes.)

Further disagreement surrounded various property transfers and remortgages.  Notably, the wife alleged she did not consent to some of the transfers and that some of the documents must have been forged.

The husband petitioned for divorce in January 2010 and decree absolute was granted in April 2010.  Once again, there was a fundamental dispute as to fact:

  • The husband claimed that the parties agreed to keep their divorce quiet for cultural reasons and to protect the children from embarrassment – but that the wife was fully aware of and engaged in the divorce process.  He remarried in 2011.
  • The wife claimed that the parties remained very much married, albeit separated, and continued to attend family functions together as husband and wife.  She claimed she was not aware of the 2010 divorce until 2019, when she petitioned for judicial separation.

So how could the divorce have happened without the wife’s knowledge?

Divorce petitions must be served on the respondent.  In this case, the wife lived in the family home, but the husband listed one of their other properties as her address for service.  She claims not to have received the petition.

Within seven business days of receiving a divorce petition, the respondent must file an Acknowledgement of Service.  In this case, the Acknowledgement of Service was completed and signed in the wife’s name.  The wife claimed she did not sign the document.

Once the Acknowledgement of Service has been filed, the petitioner can apply for decree nisi.  Six weeks and one day after the pronouncement of decree nisi, the petitioner can apply for decree absolute.  The husband made these applications.  Decree absolute would have been sent to both parties – but the court would have used the address the husband provided – which is not where the wife lived.

This process will change when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force from 6 April 2022, but service requirements will remain in place.

The wife’s application

The wife applied to set aside the 2010 decree absolute.  The husband resisted.  Judgment was delivered in 2022.  The judge was highly critical of both parties: “In my assessment of the parties, the evidence illustrates their respective general approach as having little regard for the law.

The court found:

  • The wife did not have notice of the divorce petition.
  • (In line with evidence from a single joint expert who analysed the parties’ handwriting) the wife’s purported signature on the Acknowledgement of Service was a forgery – forged by or on behalf of the husband.
  • Decree absolute was set aside.


If decree absolute is set aside, the parties remain married. 

In this case, the husband’s purported remarriage would be void (on the basis he was already married when it was entered into).  He may have committed the criminal offence of bigamy.  A person’s belief that they are divorced (even if that belief is reasonable) is not a defence.

Unsurprisingly, given the implications, it is extremely rare for decree absolute to be set aside.  However, the case highlights the importance of following the correct procedure – in particular in relation to service – in divorce cases.