Vardags beats Hollywood to Accidental Divorce 

A lawyer at Vardags accidentally divorced a client without their instructions, but a judge has refused to overturn the mistake to preserve "the certainty and finality" of divorce orders.

The high-profile divorce firm was acting for Mrs Williams who had separated from her husband, Mr Williams, in January 2023, after more than 21 years of marriage. 

On 3rd October 2023, a Vardags lawyer mistakenly used the court's online portal to apply for a final divorce order for Mrs Williams, having intended to make the application for another client, in a different case. 

Mrs Williams had not given instructions to Vardags to make the application, as discussions about arrangements for the split were ongoing. However, the divorce order was approved electronically within minutes.

In what must have been a painful butt-clenching moment, the firm discovered the botched application a couple of days later, and filed an application to set it aside.

At a hearing at the High Court requesting to revoke the order, Mrs Williams' barrister said that the error made by the firm was simply that of "clicking the wrong button". He argued the court should set aside the divorce, as the solicitors "did not have authority" from their client to make the application.

Mr Williams' barrister argued in response that "a final order of divorce is a once and for all order" which "cannot be set aside by the consent of the parties and may only be rescinded by the court if it is found to be either void or voidable". 

The judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, noted that to make the order on the computer system, "a number of" screens must be traversed "each of which prominently bears the names of the parties (for example 'Williams v Williams')." And at the final stage, when the lawyer has to confirm the order, "again the name of the case is prominently displayed on this screen."

McFarlane stated that the court should resist potentially opening up an additional stage in divorce proceedings, after the final order, which would allow a party to come back and say the application was "made by mistake". He commented: "The authorities make clear, a final order made without procedural irregularity should stand for all the world."

McFarlane rejected Mrs Williams' argument that the order "was rendered voidable" by the lack of the client's "actual consent", given that Vardags was "generally authorised to act for her and the court was entitled to accept the application for the final order made by them as being validly made on her behalf". 

The judge dismissed the application to set aside the divorce, concluding: "There is a strong public policy interest in respecting the certainty and finality that flows from a final divorce order and maintaining the status quo that it has established". 

Ayasha Vardag told RollOnFriday: “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, particularly when nobody has relied upon it to their detriment."

Vardag also commented: "For whatever reason, the husband took issue and the judge decided, effectively, ‘the computer says no, you’re divorced’". 

She added: "For now, our law says that you can be divorced by an error made on an online system. God help us as we get more automation.”

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Anon 19 April 24 08:17

The problem with family law is that it is practised by intellectually third rate people. Little wonder that basic mistakes of this nature are made.

The blame game 19 April 24 08:24

It’s the state’s fault innit?  Nothing at all to do with Vardags gross negligence, its lack of supervision and its failure to take client instructions before taking a positive step in the divorce.

Blaming the state is frankly a pathetic attempt at a smokescreen.  Shame on you Vardag. 

Hopefully not a trainee 19 April 24 08:25

The stuff of true nightmares. I can tell you how many times I clench my cheeks when I’m e-file for this EXACT reason. Really unfortuante for the person in question but as massive a blunder this is, it’s the nature of the job now. 

At least he didn’t send across a draft copy of a Defence which a Senior Associate in my firm managed to do last week. 

Matt Rimonial 19 April 24 08:40

"For now, our law says that you can be divorced by an error made on an online system. God help us as we get more automation.”


As though this were somehow the computer's fault. 

Anon 19 April 24 08:42

Hello Vardags. Yes, we know it’s you down voting. Maybe spend more time training your staff 

Anon 19 April 24 09:06

It must be the dress code doing it. Sounds like an error by somebody who was too busy. Have to feel sorry for the lawyer in question. 

The Paginator 19 April 24 09:13

@Anonymous 19 April 24 08:31


I came here to say this.  Damn your eyes!!

Anonymous 19 April 24 09:54

"This is a bad decision. The state should not be divorcing people on the basis of a clerical error."

Ayesha, it wasn't the state that divorced someone on the basis of a clerical error, it was Vardags.

But I bet they looked great in leather trousers while they did it.

Ally Slopper 19 April 24 10:17

It must have been the dress code. As we all know, discreetly sexy people don’t make clerical errors.

Mistakes happen 19 April 24 10:44

The people showing no sympathy in the comments for a mistake must never have run a caseload.  Mistakes happen all the time.  Documents are sent to the other side that should not be sent.  A colleague even once repossessed the wrong house (that was a bad one!)  We've all seen WP correspondence in bundles.  

A little empathy wouldn't go amiss.  Our junior colleagues are running large caseloads for very little money and even less thanks.

Vardaggers 19 April 24 10:47

Perhaps Ayesha should spend more time training her staff and less time writing third-rate smut

Anon 19 April 24 13:07

@Mistakes happen 10:44, except it wasn't just a press of a button, the entire form was filled out incorrectly with all the wrong data for the wrong client. That's one hell of a "mistake". I think you miss the point of most of the comments on this thread. They don't slate the junior, they are directed at the pathetic response by the owner

In search of a relevant opinion 19 April 24 13:58

Is anyone commenting on here actually a divorce lawyer with experience of this online system?  I am not.  I think it would be helpful for us all to know whether it is easy or hard to make a mistake like this.

Therebutforthegraceofgod 19 April 24 15:27

As a family lawyer, this is not as difficult a mistake to make as is being portrayed. 

My understanding is that the original application for Mrs  A Williams had been made correctly, and conditional order granted. On the same Portal login, another application had been made on behalf of  Mrs B Williams, and conditional order granted.

Mrs B Williams instructed Vardags to apply for her Final Order. The incorrect file was clicked on (Mrs A Williams) from the main page. The parties' 1st names are not shown. There is then a tick box to apply for the Final Order where, again, the parties' names are not shown. You then input your details as the solicitor (but not the parties'). Final Order is then pronounced very swiftly.

I have never had sympathy for Vardags previously (and doubt I ever will again) but I do feel that this mistake is rather easily made due to the lack of 1st names or necessity to insert client details on the Portal when applying for Final Order.





Anon 19 April 24 20:22

I hope Vardags now realise that their arrogance is their downfall and they aren’t at all as good as they sell themselves to be or think they are. 

Anonymous Anonymous 19 April 24 22:17

What happened to the basic checking of documents? Someone has expensive legal fees to pay.

anon 20 April 24 07:16

Anon 19 April 24 08:17: very true. Family law is the intellectual equivalent of colouring in.

Anonymous 24 April 24 16:40

The principal of this firm never shows any element of being a humble person. She may be 'britain's top divorce lawyer' and the 'diva of divorce' but her firm, clerical error or not, divorced a couple in error. It is very negligent, sloppy and embarrassing. 

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