Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

UK woman told she can't divorce just because marriage is loveless

Tini Owens The Supreme Court ruled Tini Owens could not divorce her husband on the grounds their marriage was loveless Credit PA
Gerardo Duncan | 27 July, 2018, 21:56

Mrs Owens had argued that her husband Hugh's behaviour meant that it was unreasonable for her to be expected to live with him but, even though they were sympathetic, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that "it is not a ground for divorce that you find yourself in an unhappy marriage".

Commenting on today's Supreme Court judgment in Owens v Owens, Simon Blain, family partner at Penningtons Manches and executive committee member for Resolution, the national association for family lawyers, said: "Today's judgment will frustrate not only Mrs Owens but many who have long campaigned for divorce reform in England and Wales".

It is rare for spouses to defend a petition for a divorce, but legislation makes it hard for even mutual divorces when, in the absence of a period living apart, one party must provide evidence of unreasonable behaviour or adultery before the marriage can be ended.

"Sadly for Ms. Owens, she will have to wait until 5 years separation gives her grounds for divorce which is surely a failure for the family courts".

"Mrs Owens is devastated by this decision, which means that she can not move forward with her life and obtain her independence from Mr Owens", he said, adding that the public would find the court's decision "hard to understand".

He said if their marriage had irretrievably broken down it was because she had an affair, or because she was "bored". He hoped his wife would still change her mind.

"The Supreme Court judges had to make their ruling within the context of the current law".

The couple were married in 1978 and have two adult children. Hugh, however, refuses to agree to a divorce and denies her allegations about his behaviour.

Resolution, the association for family lawyers, is calling for the introduction of no-fault divorce - a move which many family lawyers support.

She says he has behaved unreasonably and that she should not reasonably be expected to stay married.

He said the "question for Parliament" was whether the law governing "entitlement to divorce" remained "satisfactory". "Our role is only to interpret and apply the law that parliament has given us". They say the case is about "proper interpretation" of legislation.

Lady Hale also confirmed that the behaviour complained of does not have to be the cause of the breakdown of the marriage and gave her strong concern that the trial judge may have underplayed the cumulative effect of a great many small incidents said to be indicative of authoritarian, demeaning and humiliating conduct over a period of time (at para 50).

"In bringing her appeal, she was essentially advocating divorce by unilateral demand of the petitioner; ignoring the court's duty to have some objective regard to the respondent's behaviour".

The current law in England and Wales doesn't provide for a no-fault divorce.

Neither Tini nor Hugh was in court to hear the ruling delivered.

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