The importance of looking after this key document following the case of Power v Vidal [2019]

The Decree Absolute is the document confirming the dissolution of a marriage. It is evidence which proves that a marriage has officially ended and will be required should you wish to remarry.

If your Decree Absolute is lost, a certified copy can generally be retrieved from the court for a small fee. However, as Mr Power recently discovered, this may not always be the case without lengthy and, no doubt, costly court proceedings. It is always best to keep your Decree Absolute safe.

In 1994, James Power started his divorce in the Willesden County Court. The divorce was confirmed three years later when a Decree Absolute was made on 29 January 1997. It wasn't until 2018, when Mr Power wanted to remarry, that he realised he could not find his copy of the certificate. He wrote to the court seeking a copy, and subsequently made a formal application for a certified copy, paying a court fee of £50. Remarkably, the court could not locate a copy of the decree nor could they supply the date the order was made. The original file had been destroyed in 2013, despite the fact the Family Court is required to retain key pieces of paperwork, including the Decree Absolute, for 100 years. In fact, the court could not find any evidence at all to support the existence of the certificate and subsequently nothing to confirm the divorce had actually been completed.

The court’s next step was to contact the respondent in the divorce, Maria Vidal, now residing in Australia, to see if she still had her certified copy of the document. Ms Vidal was unsure whether she had retained a copy, though if she had, she said it would be in storage some one thousand miles away in another part of Australia. Ms Vidal travelled to the potential place of storage and very fortunately she was able to retrieve her copy. However, as the document she had was not the original, the court was required to make a declaration that this was a true copy and that the marriage was in fact dissolved in 1997. The Decree Absolute was then recorded on the central index maintained at the Central Family Court and Mr Power received an apology from the court for the administrative failures.

Luckily this case is an example of very exceptional circumstances. Not every ex-spouse will be as helpful! However, it highlights the importance of taking care of your Decree Absolute.

Replacing a lost certificate

If you have lost your Decree Absolute, you can request a new copy via the website. There is an application fee of £10 and you will be asked to provide both your case number and the court in which the Decree was given. There are further procedures and associated fees if you do not know your case number or which court to ask.

It is also important to consider your financial circumstances. The Decree Absolute does not automatically end financial claims arising from the divorce. They can remain open indefinitely.