First, a little history of the case. After being refused a divorce by the family courts a few years ago, Mrs Owens had taken her case to the Court of Appeal, who ultimately upheld the court’s judgement, as her husband’s behaviour was not deemed “unreasonable enough”.
In what is a very unusual case, as the vast majority of divorces in England and Wales are not contested, Mr Owens reportedly does not want a divorce as he feels that they still have “few years” left to enjoy.
In England and Wales, the person who starts the divorce proceedings must prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, by establishing either adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, 2 years separation with consent from the other party or 5 years separation with no consent required.
This means that, in reality, if a couple do not want to place blame on the other party and there is no consent, they must wait until they have been separated for 5 years before they can get a divorce.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the most common grounds for divorce is “unreasonable behaviour”.
Mrs Owens cited “unreasonable behaviour” when petitioning for divorce. Mr Owens decided to defend the divorce.
In order for a divorce to be granted, the courts have to be satisfied that the “respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent.”
Whilst relatively unusual in the 21st century, the case of Tini Owens has served to highlight what many people believe is an outdated system, which results in additional animosity and hurt between divorcing couples, during what are already very difficult, emotional times.
Many argue that a fault-based divorce system, where a woman is forced to remain in a marriage that she very clearly does not want to be in, is completely out of place in modern times and needs urgent reform, so that cases such as this do not occur again.
According to a survey by Resolution, who called the current system “outdated, unfair, and unnecessary”, 80% of professionals questioned believed that the introduction of a no-fault divorce would make it more likely for separated couples to reach an agreement out of court. This can only be a good thing.
Nigel Shepherd, immediate past Chair of Resolution said that it was “ridiculous that Mrs Owens has to come to the highest court in the land in order to escape a loveless marriage”.
A ruling is expected by the Supreme Court on the Tini Owens case later this year. While Mrs Owens may ultimately get the divorce she so obviously wants (taking her case to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court will undoubtedly have been difficult for her), any decision made by the Supreme Court will only be based on existing statute.
Whether the government will have the time to make what many believe are very important changes to divorce law in England and Wales, whilst trying to handle the UK’s divorce from the EU, remains to be seen.
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