Supreme Court ruling denies contentious divorce appeal

Friday 27 July 2018

The Supreme Court handed down its judgment in the long-running case of Owens v Owens, rejecting an appeal from 68-year-old Tini Owens to divorce her husband of 37 years on the grounds of his ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

Tini and Hugh Owens married in 1978 and, after 37 years of marriage, separated in February 2015 with Mrs Owens issuing a divorce petition three months later. The petition alleged that the marriage had broken down irretrievably and that Mr Owens had behaved in such a way that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him, citing his behaviour as ‘moody’, ‘argumentative’ and ‘disparaging in front of others’.

Mr Owens chose to defend the divorce suit, and her petition has now been rejected by the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, meaning the couple will now have to remain legally married until at least five years of separation have passed.

John Boon, associate in Roythornes Solicitors’ specialist family law team, discussed the case and what this landmark judgement could mean for the future of divorce in England and Wales.

He said: “This judgement will no doubt fuel calls for the introduction of no-fault divorce and reconsideration of the five facts which are presently relied on to demonstrate to the Court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Current divorce laws date back almost 50 years and they are long overdue for reform to take into account modern circumstances and living arrangements.

“Whilst the Supreme Court expressed sympathy with Mrs Owens’ position, they unanimously dismissed her appeal, finding that the judge at first instance had applied the correct test. However, the majority of the presiding judges did also invite Parliament to consider replacing the current law, which has effectively denied Mrs Owens a divorce until 2020 - whether such legislation will see the light of day remains to be seen.

“Although this case has not changed the existing ruling of divorce, it has certainly brought to light the issues with the law as it stands, and why the debate regarding no-fault divorce will continue until parliament chooses to review the existing legislation.”

To speak to member of Roythornes’ family law team, contact 01775 842500.