The unhappy couples had paid a company in Italy up to €4,700 to secure “quickie” divorces, sidestepping Italian law, which says that couples have to live apart for three years before legally being able to separate.
The firm used 137 county courts in Britain to hide its tracks, and used one address in Maidenhead, southern England, as proof of residency for 179 couples. A police search revealed that the address was in fact a mail box.
Thames Valley Police found the scheme had run for two years, with each couple being charged between 3,750 and 4,700 euros.
James Munby ruled that “a decree, whether nisi (conditional) or absolute (final), will be void on the ground of fraud if the court has been materially deceived, by perjury, forgery or otherwise, into accepting that it has jurisdiction to entertain the petition”.
In England and Wales, divorces can be granted without any waiting period to couples who have been married for at least a year on the grounds of adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion.