There may be a few of you who have not heard of the recent case involving an Andrew O’Clee’s bigamous relationship, writes Anita Garside Family Solicitor of Ringrose Law.

It came as a surprise to Michelle O’Clee to discover last year that three years after their 2008 marriage her husband started a relationship with another woman, called Philippa, made worse since at the time the O’Clees were trying to conceive a baby.

He then went on to ‘marry’ for a second time, despite still being married to Michelle. Mr O’Clee forged a decree absolute so he could ‘marry’ Philippa. He was so convincing that his parents and his brother attended the ceremony.

To explain away his absence for lengthy periods at a time over the next few years he told Michelle he was involved in a fraud investigation and on a witness protection programme that required him to live in a safe house.

Michelle discovered her husband’s double life four years later when she saw a video of him doing the ice bucket challenge with Philippa on the internet. She later found videos on Facebook of his ‘wedding’ to ‘his second wife.’

Mr O’Clee was arrested last August and recently jailed for eight months for his crime. The question arises as to what happens to the financial aspects of the first and ‘second marriage’ in this sort of situation?

It would be open for Michelle to issue divorce proceedings against Mr O’Clee immediately — either for adultery or behaviour. Within those proceedings she could also apply for an order for financial relief against Mr O’Clee. It may be some small consolation to her that if she applied for a more favourable or enhanced order than might otherwise have been granted in more normal circumstances, the court may grant that to her because of her husband’s conduct on the basis that “it would be inequitable to ignore it”(Matrimonial Causes Act 1927).

What of the position of the ‘second wife’ Philippa? Although she has apparently indicated she would wish to continue her relationship with Mr O’Clee, what if she did not?

The ‘second marriage’, being bigamous, is void in law. However, things do not end there. So long as Philippa thought she had gone through a valid marriage it would be possible for her to petition for nullity under the Matrimonial Causes Act and once a Decree of Nullity is granted this would give her the right to apply for the same financial remedies she would have been entitled to if the marriage had been valid.

Taking this one step further — what if the parties believe they have gone through a valid marriage ceremony abroad, but in fact they have not?

In that event, so long as one party was domiciled in England and Wales at the time of the ceremony, a petition of nullity may be filed in the English courts in the same way and financial remedies pursued once a Decree of Nullity is granted. So someone not legally married, who cannot apply for a suitable financial settlement in the country where the marriage took place, and potentially not even domiciled in England and Wales, may apply for financial relief.

It is a strange anomaly that puts such a person in a much better position than a cohabitee when his/her relationship breaks down, despite both being unmarried.

To discuss or take advice on these issues, Anita Garside, family law specialist, on 01636 594460 or email anita.garside@ringroselaw.co.uk.

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