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Owens v Owens - no grounds for divorce decision

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Is it time for a shift towards 'no-fault’ divorce cases in England & Wales?

The Supreme Court has today unanimously rejected an appeal made by a wife seeking a divorce from her husband of 40 years. The decision will mean that Tini Owens from Worcestershire, will have to remain married to her husband Hugh until 2020.

She is said to be "devastated" and "unable to move forward with her life".

The couple were married in 1978 and Mrs Owens has said that she had been thinking about starting divorce proceedings since 2012, but did not actually separate from Mr Owens until February 2015.

Mrs Owens said that the marriage had irretrievably broken down as a result of Mr Owen’s unreasonable behaviour, and that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him. Mr Owens refused to agree to a divorce, and denied the allegations made about his behaviour towards his wife.

The Court were asked to consider whether the ‘unreasonable behaviour’ alleged by Mrs Owens was enough to mean that she should be allowed to divorce her husband. The original Judge who had heard the case found that although the marriage had broken down, the examples of unreasonable behaviour were ‘flimsy and exaggerated’.

Unreasonable behaviour can be a very subjective issue, and what one person believes is unreasonable, another may not. Ultimately the Court must be satisfied that the alleged behaviour is enough to have caused the ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of the marriage.

One of the Supreme Court Judges has said that Parliament would need to decide whether it is now time to introduce a ‘no-fault’ divorce in England and Wales. Another Supreme Court Judge suggested that being in an ‘unhappy’ marriage was not grounds for divorce.

So, should there be a change to the Law? Should it be easier to get a divorce? Should we have no-fault divorces, where either party can simply state that ‘differences have arisen’ and that they have simply ‘grown apart”?

Mrs Owens' lawyers argued she should not have to prove Mr Owens' behaviour had been "unreasonable", only that she should not "reasonably be expected" to stay married to him. They argued that there should be a shift in the law to meet the expectations of our modern society.

Mr Owens’ lawyers argued that a shift in the law towards a no-fault divorce would allow people to end marriage on demand.

Mrs Owens had already lost two rounds of the battle with a family court judge refusing to allow her to divorce in 2016 and last year three appeal judges ruled against her after a Court of Appeal hearing.

Talbots Law’s Family Team are always on hand to discuss this and any other family matter - for further information, please contact Anna Tomlinson or call us now on 0800 118 1500.