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Supreme Court suggests divorce law needs to change

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The very public divorce proceedings of Owens v Owens, the litigation between Tini Owens and Huw Owens focussed on his unreasonable behaviour, have come to a conclusion. Many divorce solicitors in London will be disappointed to hear that the law will not allow Tini Owens to divorce her husband of 40 years until 2020. The best divorce lawyers will welcome the fact that the decision of the Supreme Court in Owens v Owens includes a call to Parliament to address the situation that has left Mrs Owens ‘devastated’ that she must remain married for 2 more years.

Owens v Owens and unreasonable behaviour

Mr and Mrs Owens married in 1978 but have lived apart since February 2015 when Mrs Owens left the home. She began to contemplate divorce in 2012. Her divorce petition, issued in May 2015, alleged that the marriage had irretrievably broken down on the basis of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour. Her amended petition included 27 examples of behaviour which, she argued, demonstrated how he was moody, argumentative and disparaging of her in public. Unusually, Mr Owens opposed the petition – unusual in itself – and argued that the marriage had been largely successful.

Both the judge at first instance and the Court of Appeal rejected the argument that the marriage had broken down on the grounds of Mr Owens’ unreasonable behaviour. Although both courts recognised that Mrs Owens was miserable in the marriage, the evidence that she had produced in support of her petition was not sufficient to satisfy the law, contained in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1972. The Supreme Court was unable to overturn the Court of Appeal’s analysis of the case.

As Mr Owens will not consent to the divorce, Mrs Owens must wait 5 years from leaving the marital home – until February 2020 – before she can obtain her divorce.

Calls to change the law on divorce

Reading the decision – as all the top London divorce lawyers will be keen to do over the coming days – it is clear that the Supreme Court finds its conclusions troubling. It has done what it must do – apply the law. That does not mean that it likes the law that it has applied. Support for a ‘no fault’ divorce has been gathering momentum for many years, a campaign spearheaded by Resolution to end the need for couples to apportion blame for the breakdown of the marriage. The comments of the Supreme Court will only add to the mounting pressure to change the law.

OTS Solicitors offer practical advice on divorce, including high net worth divorce, and all aspects of family law. To book an appointment to discuss your situation in confidence, please call 0203 959 9123

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