Mr P was divorced in 1997. When he wanted to marry again 21 years later he couldn’t find his decree absolute so he wrote to Willesden County Court to ask for a copy. Courts are supposed to keep divorce files for 18 years, after which most of the contents are destroyed but key documents, including the decree absolute, are kept for another 82 years. Courts, however, are renowned for losing files and Mr P’s was not to be found at Willesden.

A search was made in the TNT archive storage depot in Lincolnshire, but there was no trace of it there either. The Office for National Statistics checked their stores, but found that all paper decree absolutes from 1997 had unfortunately been destroyed. And finally the Decree Absolute team at the Central Family Court was not, despite extensive searches, able to identify the decree absolute on the central index.

So, Willesden Court contacted Mr P’s ex-wife by email in Australia. She said she didn’t know if she had kept a copy of the decree absolute but, if she had, then it was in storage 1000 kilometres away in another part of Australia.

As ex-wives go, this one appears to be extremely helpful and accommodating as this was quite a big favour to ask. Although it’s fair to say we’re not told how much the court service paid her to travel the 1000 kilometres to retrieve the only copy in the world of this decree absolute.

Unfortunately, it was only a certified copy and Mr P then had to go to the High Court for a declaration that it was a genuine copy and that he was in fact divorced in 1997. All this took him 18 months – probably longer than his original divorce – but he was finally able to have his wedding. The law report does not say that the court service paid all his fees, so I dread to think how much it cost him.

The moral of this story is, of course, to keep your decree absolute, and final orders in any children or financial proceedings, in a very safe place.