The ongoing divorce case of Owens-v-Owens is highly significant. Tini Owens wants a divorce. Her husband, Hugh Owens, does not. This situation is contrary to most petitions for divorce which are usually uncontested. So far, the courts have found in Mr Owens favour. Now the case has reached the Supreme Court.
Under current divorce law in England and Wales, one of five reasons must be evidenced to prove that a marriage has irretrievably broken down:
Mrs Owens has cited numerous allegations of unreasonable behaviour against her husband. However, these were rejected by a family law judge who described the examples given as being “of the kind to be expected in a marriage”. The ruling was subsequently backed up by the Court of Appeal.
If the Supreme Court finds against her, Mrs Owens must wait until 2020 to be granted a divorce under the five years separation rule, having originally filed for divorce in 2015. Had Mr Owens not contested the divorce, it is widely believed that the courts would have granted it.
Unreasonable behaviour is often cited as the basis for divorce in an amicable split between couples, as it allows for proceedings to begin immediately and avoids the delay and cost of following the two years separation route.
This highlights the way in which the system encourages divorcing couples to assign blame which can cause unnecessary acrimony and already difficult time. Campaigners, including organisations such as Resolution and Relate, want to see the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce to make the process easier for the parties involved and prevent situations from becoming contentious, particularly when there are children involved.
Resolution, which represents about 6500 family lawyers in England and Wales, is proposing a new system under which one or both spouses can give notification that the marriage has broken down. After six months has elapsed, if they have not changed their mind then a ‘no-fault’ divorce would be granted.
The outcome of the Owens case may yet prove to be a defining moment in shaping the future of divorce law and for people like Mrs Owens who find themselves trapped by the current system.