The accidental divorce

While I was browsing my feeds this week a story caught my eye from the London Evening Standard. Apparently a top law firm inadvertently pressed the wrong button on an online Government portal and accidentally divorced the wrong couple. The process proceeded without a hitch, and their client, the wife of the marriage, duly divorced her unsuspecting husband.

This all happened about six months ago. The reason it’s in the news right now is because the law firm concerned have been in court trying to have the mistake overturned. Unfortunately, the judge, while being sympathetic, refused the request on the grounds that the process was entirely legal and it would not be in the public interest to overrule legal processes in this way. The divorce therefore stands.

Intriguingly, the article ends with the following quote:

“Yet the husband in the case argued that the order which was applied and granted in a court process should stand.”

I instantly bookmarked the story for future use. I figure I can get at least one novel and maybe half a dozen short stories based on plot lines built around this unfortunate tale.

Imagine being that poor, over-paid, under-appreciated junior solicitor who actually clicked the button. The angry call from your original client demanding to know where their divorce confirmation has got too. A quick check on the system, followed by the heart-stopping realisation that it was Smyth with a Y not Smith with an I.

Or imagine the happily married man arriving home with a diamond necklace for the wife’s anniversary only to find a letter on the mat telling him he’s been divorced. Does he confront her, or does he jump for joy and hit Tinder before the kettle’s even boiled?

And the ideas only multiply once you stop to consider all the questions that arise from this short but intriguing story. For instance, I had no idea that divorce could be handled through an online portal. How does that work? And even if the process is online, surely you need the parties involved to sign something, or to fill in a bunch of forms. From what I’ve seen on the telly divorce is one of the most stressful things you can do. How then could it be possible to get one without even knowing about it?

It also raises the question of how you prove you are married in the first place. You could dig out your original marriage certificate, or maybe take down the wedding album from its box in the cupboard, but all that proves is that the event actually happened. It’s not like you get a marital statement sent to you every year along with your HMRC tax code. Maybe your wife divorced you years ago and just never got round to mentioning it.

Then there is the final quote I shared above. Why would an unsuspecting husband be on the judge’s side? Maybe he fancies a change. Maybe he’s had a bit on the side for years and was just looking for the right time to move on. Or maybe he’s a bigamist and those pesky lawyers have got him out of what was looking like turning into an awkward situation. It’s also possible that he just loves weddings and is cockahoop at the chance of having another one. Then again, If the judge overturned the decision, that might severely curtail the amount of damages that the law firm would have to pay out in the forthcoming malpractice suit.

All of the above thoughts, which are entirely my own and based on no knowledge beyond what I read in the original article, make for potentially great stories. If I decide to use them then I’ll have to do some more research and maybe, as often happens, the Evening Standard article will prove to be much less interesting and more mundane than it was upon first reading.

If that happens, then so be it. But, for the moment, I will continue to bask in the feeling of wonder that comes from reading stories like this. I love fiction, and writing fiction, but one of my favourite things is scrolling through news and magazine feeds and discovering weird and wonderful gems to add to my store of story ideas. Many thinkers and self help gurus recommend that we stop scrolling to better focus on our own life goals. Perhaps they are right, but I can’t help thinking that my life would be poorer if I missed out on stories like this one.

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