Breaking up is hard to do: Owens v Owens

So sang American pop star Neil Sedaka, way back in 1962. What was true for him then is certainly true today for 68 year old Mrs Tini Owens, after the UK’s highest court rejected her appeal against being refused a divorce because of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour.

Following a 37 year marriage, Mrs Owens issued divorce proceedings on the ground that the marriage had irretrievably broken down. Her case was based on the fact that her husband had behaved in such a way that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him. However, Mr Owens contested the divorce.

His Honour Judge Tolson QC refused to grant the decree nisi, stating that the wife had failed to satisfy the court that her husband had behaved in such a way that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him. He described the allegations of Mrs Owens as flimsy and exaggerated, with the alleged disagreements being nothing more than could be expected in any marriage. The particulars of his unreasonable behaviour were prioritising work over home life, not showing love, affection or support, his repeated mood swings and arguments, speaking critically of his wife, as well as the couple sleeping in separate beds. Had the case had not been contested by Mr Owens it is very likely that the divorce petition would have been allowed, as the court would not have scrutinised an uncontested petition in such detail.

Mrs Owens launched an appeal, but this too was refused. The Court of Appeal judges unanimously failed to find any legal grounds for the appeal to be granted. Unfortunately, it is likely that Mrs Owens will now have to wait until she has been separated from her husband for 5 years to obtain a divorce.

Whilst accepting that the courts could only act within the current legal framework, many in the legal profession have expressed disappointment at the outcome of this case. There is already considerable pressure on the government to overhaul the country’s divorce laws, and to introduce “no-fault” divorce. The current requirement to seek to blame the other party in a divorce case only leads to acrimony, delay, and additional cost, and can have damaging consequences where children are involved.

The case of Owens v Owens has again brought our divorce laws under the spotlight. Supreme Court President Lady Hale has said that she found the case “very troubling”, but that it is the job of the courts “to interpret law that parliament has given us”. It is now up to the government to change the law to make it more reflective of modern society.

At Bretherton Law we know that it can be stressful and complicated when relationships break down, so turning to an experienced Family Law Solicitor is the sensible choice. We have been helping families with changes in their circumstances for over 50 years, and have built an enviable reputation for our professional service and honest advice.

Call Heidi Fleming on 01727 869293, or make an appointment via our website

Related Articles

Resolution: A campaign for no fault divorce

BBC News: Tini Owens loses Supreme Court divorce fight

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