Supreme Court to Hear Divorce Appeal

A woman who was told by the family court that she could not obtain a divorce because her marriage had not irretrievably broken down has been given permission to appeal the decision to the UK’s Supreme Court.

Grounds for Divorce

Tini and Hugh Owens married in 1978 and separated in February 2015. Mrs Owens then filed for divorce in May 2015.

In order to obtain a divorce, Mrs Owen needed to be able to prove that her marriage had broken down for one of five possible reasons:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • They have lived apart for more than two years and both parties agree to the divorce
  • They have lived apart for at least five years, even if her husband disagrees.

Unreasonable Behaviour

Because Mr Owens didn’t agree that the marriage had irretrievably broken down and announced his intention to defend the divorce, the only way Mrs Owens could obtain a divorce without having to wait five years would be to prove unreasonable behaviour on the part of her husband.

In her divorce petition she alleged her husband behaved unreasonably in a number of ways, including prioritising his work over home life, withholding attention and affection and acting in an unpleasant and disparaging way towards her.

However, her husband argued that the examples given of his behaviour did not satisfy the requirements of s 1(2)(b of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973) that he “has behaved in such a way that [she] cannot reasonably be expected to live with [him].” The judge agreed with his arguments and dismissed the petition.

Mrs Owens appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal, which reluctantly upheld the original decision.

In giving the decision one of the judges, Lady Justice Hallett, said:

“However, try as I might, I cannot find a legitimate basis for challenging the judge’s conclusions. He applied the law correctly and on the evidence before him, he was entitled to reach the conclusions that he did and provided good reasons for them.”

“I very much regret that our decision will leave the wife in a very unhappy situation. I urge the husband to reconsider his position. On any view, the marriage is over. I can only hope that he will relent and consent to a divorce on the grounds the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of two years, rather than force his wife to wait until five years have elapsed.”

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Appeal

Mrs Owens then sought permission to take her appeal to the Supreme Court, which has now been granted.

Family law organisation Resolution has welcomed the decision to allow the appeal.

“Mrs Owens’ case highlights why divorce law in the UK needs to change,” explained Nigel Shepherd, National Chair of Resolution. “We need to reduce conflict and support separating couples to resolve matters amicably, rather than forcing them to play a blame game where one or both of them thinks the marriage is over. The simple fact is that this case should not have been necessary, and only by implementing a no-fault divorce system can we ensure such a situation doesn’t happen again.”

“Support for no-fault divorce is growing, from family law professionals, the public and politicians,” he added. “Whether it’s before or after the case is heard by the Supreme Court, the Government needs to take urgent action to bring our outdated divorce laws up to date and ensure that Mrs Owens’ experience is not repeated.”

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

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