Estranged couple accidentally divorced after law firm’s computer error

Ayesha Vardag, known as 'the diva of divorce', said the state 'can't be divorcing people just because of an online clerical error'
Ayesha Vardag, known as 'the diva of divorce', said the state 'can't be divorcing people just because of an online clerical error' - Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph

A computer error at a family law firm has left a couple accidentally divorced.

Solicitors at Vardags, headed by Ayesha Vardag, a self-proscribed “diva of divorce”, used an online system to process a marital split for one of the firm’s clients.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family court division, said the lawyers thought they were making an application for another couple but accidentally issued a final order in proceedings between the Williamses, whose first names were not revealed, in October last year.

The couple had been married for 21 years until they separated last year.

However, lawyers at Vardags, representing the wife, used the online system “without the instruction or authority of their client”, according to Sir Andrew.

The application was granted within 21 minutes of their registration to the divorce portal and while they were still attempting to agree the financial terms of their split.

The error was discovered days later, and lawyers at the firm applied to rescind the divorce order at the High Court.

Sir Andrew then rejected Mrs Williams’ application for the order to be set aside and said there was a public interest in respecting the “certainty and finality that flows from a divorce order and maintaining the status quo that it has established”.

‘Not right, not sensible’

Mrs Vardag said: “This is a bad decision. The state should not be divorcing people on the basis of a clerical error.

“There has to be intention on the part of the person divorcing, because the principle of intention underpins the justice of our legal system. When a mistake is brought to a court’s attention and everyone accepts that a mistake has been made, it obviously has to be undone.

“We’ve heard from the court staff that this happens a fair bit with the new online system, and it should just have been fixed as usual. But here the husband inexplicably took issue and the judge decided, effectively, ‘the computer says no, you’re divorced’.

“It’s the kind of decision that I believe would be overturned in a higher court, but where the upshot is in reality that a wife who wanted a divorce has got one, why would that be worth doing in this case?

“That means that, for now, our law says that you can be divorced by an error made on an online system. And that’s just not right, not sensible, not justice”.

Mrs Vardag rose to fame following her role in the landmark Supreme Court case of Radmacher v Granatino in 2010, which changed the law to make prenuptial agreements legally enforceable in the UK.

She then made headlines in 2020 after asking all staff at her firm to stop wearing cardigans and stop looking like “pretty young things” around the office. Employees were told to aim to look “executive” and like “the president of a significant country”.

Last year, she sent out refreshed guidance to her 120 staff members, saying that while outfits need to be “still absolutely top-end and appropriate to the luxury market with which we engage… day to day, if you fancy an electric-blue sequinned jacket and gold leather trousers, if you want pink hair or scarlet Dr Martens, if you want a purple velvet jacket, that’s all good”.