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Controversial Divorce Case Reaches Supreme Court

The highly publicised contested-divorce case, Owens v Owens, has now been heard by the UK’s Supreme Court. 

Facts of the Case

The English case concerns Tini and Hugh Owens, who married in 1978 and separated in February 2015.

In May 2015 Mrs Owens filed for divorce, claiming that their marriage had irretrievably broken down – a necessary requirement for divorce in England and Wales. There are five possible reasons that can be given for this breakdown:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable Behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Separation for over two years, if both partners agree
  • Separation for at least five years, even if one partner disagrees

Mrs Owen claimed that their marriage had irretrievably broken down as a result of her husband’s behaviour, which she said was unreasonable enough to mean she could not reasonably be expected to live with him within the meaning of s 1(2)(b) Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. She gave examples of his behaviour in support of her claim, including occasions where the husband was alleged to have made disparaging or hurtful remarks to her in front of third parties.

However, Mr Owen contested the divorce, claiming that their marriage had not broken down irretrievably. He argued that the examples given of his behaviour given by Mrs Owen were not sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the Act.

The judge hearing the case at the Court of Appeal agreed with Mr Owen and dismissed the petition. Mrs Owens appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, which heard the case on 17th May. We await their ruling with great interest.

Calls for No-Fault Divorce

The case has led to renewed calls for the introduction of no-fault in divorce in England and Wales. Campaigners say the current system, which relies on one spouse proving unreasonable behaviour on the part of the other, creates unnecessary conflict and bad feeling amongst divorcing couples.

Family law organisation, Resolution, which has long campaigned for no-fault divorce, has been given permission to intervene in the case on Mrs Owen’s behalf, arguing that the current law can be applied in a way that allows her the divorce she is seeking. However, the organisation claims that irrespective of the outcome in the Supreme Court, the law should be changed to avoid such cases coming before the courts in the future.

Increased Conflict and Confrontation

It recently conducted a survey amongst family lawyers, which found that 90% agreed the current law makes it harder for them to reduce conflict and confrontation between clients and their ex-partners.

The survey also found:

  • 67% said the current law makes it harder for separated parents to reach an amicable agreement over arrangements for children.
  • 80% believe the introduction of no-fault divorce would make it more likely for separated couples to reach an agreement out of court.
  • 60% have experienced lawyers drafting more aggressive petitions than before the Court of Appeal judgment in Owens v Owens.

Resolution highlights that in 2016, more than half of all divorce petitions were submitted on the basis of adultery or behaviour – meaning over 60,000 people apportioned blame to their ex-partner for the relationship breaking down.

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Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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