Joyless marriage not ground for divorce: UK Supreme Court

27 July, 2018, 21:56 | Author: Bert Pena
  • Tini Owens loses Supreme Court divorce fight

A WOMAN who wants to divorce her husband of 40 years because she says their marriage is unhappy has lost a Supreme Court fight.

"Unfortunately for Mrs Owens, the decision means she will be locked into a marriage that is clearly over, until 2020 when she can petition for divorce on the grounds of five years separation".

Under current United Kingdom law, which dates back 50 years, anyone seeking divorce must show that a marriage has broken down due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, or live apart from his or her spouse for five years.

It's a complicated saga: Ms Owens says she first considered getting a divorce in 2012, but did not leave the family home until 2015 - issuing a divorce petition in May that year.

Simon Beccle, Mrs Owens' solicitor, said she had hoped the justices would make a decision which would be "forward-thinking and fit with the current social mores".

Resolution, an organisation that represents 6,500 lawyers working in family law and supports the introduction of no-fault divorce, said the judgment confirmed there was a "divorce crisis" in England and Wales. This led her to feel "unhappy, unappreciated, upset and embarrassed", and after many years, she said that she had "grown apart from him".

"The appeal of Mrs Owens must be dismissed".

Past year three appeal judges ruled against her after a Court of Appeal hearing in London. Politicians can no longer justify inaction on their part and must introduce no-fault divorce without delay.

Image Credit Wu Jianxiong  Unsplash
Image Credit Wu Jianxiong Unsplash

Hamish Dunlop, commenting on the Supreme Court judgement, told Lawyer Monthly: "The Supreme Court has rightly rejected Mrs Owens' attempt radically to reinterpret the requirements for a behaviour divorce brought under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973".

Caroline Elliott of law firm Shakespeare Martineau said: "England and Wales lag far behind other countries with their divorce laws".

They argued she should not have had to prove Mr Owens' behaviour has been "unreasonable", only that she should not "reasonably be expected" to remain with him.

A wealthy couple, the Owens had been married since 1978 and have two grown-up children. "It is not for us to change the law laid down by Parliament - our role is only to interpret and apply the law that Parliament has given us". In particular, she felt that "this was a case which depended upon the cumulative effect of a great many small incidents said to be indicative of authoritarian, demeaning and humiliating conduct over a period of time" (paragraph 50), and that the hearing "was not set up or conducted in a way which would enable the full flavour of such conduct to be properly evaluated".

Another, Supreme Court president Lady Hale, said she found the case "very troubling".

She said she had been "reluctantly persuaded" that the appeal should be dismissed.

Previous courts found that her examples of his bad behaviour - needed to grant a divorce - were "flimsy" and "isolated incidents", with the case eventually making it's way to the Supreme Court.

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