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Judgement on the Owens v Owens Case

Family Matters

The judgement for the Owens (Appellant) v Owens (Respondent) was given by The Supreme Court and it has been unanimously decided that a divorce will not be granted to Mrs Owens.

Tini Owens, 68, married Mr Hugh Owens, 80 in 1978 but Mrs Owens started to consider a divorce in 2012. Approximately three years later, Mrs Owens moved out from the matrimonial home and consulted solicitors to prepare the first draft of the divorce petition. The couple have lived separately ever since.

In May 2015, Mrs Owens issued a divorce petition which has formed the basis for the recent judgment. The factor, on which Mrs Owens sought to rely, within her petition, was Mr Owens’ “unreasonable behaviour”. The allegations made by Mrs Owens include accusing Mr Owens of speaking in an “insensitive tone and manner” and she felt “constantly mistrusted and unloved.” Under Section 1(2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the only ground on which a spouse can present a petition for divorce is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. This is then evidenced by one of five factors, one of which is the Respondent’s unreasonable behaviour. This must be proven by demonstrating that Mr Owens has behaved in such a way that Mrs Owens cannot reasonably be expected to live with him.

Mr Owens, on the other hand, responded that he believed the marriage has been successful and that they still have a ‘few more years’ to enjoy.

It was then decided by a Recorder in October 2015 that Mrs Owens could expand on her allegations against Mr Owens to the Court of Appeal. Mrs Owens expanded on her original argument by providing 27 different examples of Mr Owens behaviour. She believed that Mr Owens was ‘moody’, argumentative and spoke rudely to her in front of third parties.

The judge concluded that although the marriage has broken down, the examples given by Mrs Owens of Mr Owens’ behaviour were ‘exaggerated’ and the examples were ‘isolated incidents’ and the test under Section 1(2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 had not been reached. The appeal was dismissed. Mrs Owens then decided to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s ruling means that Tini Owens will now remain in, what she described, is a ‘loveless’ and unhappy marriage. Mrs Owens will, therefore, have to remain married to Mr Owens until 2020, when she can rely on the factor of five years separation without consent. Lady Hale, the President of the Supreme Court and one of the five Justices present at the hearing stated the following: “I have found this a very troubling case. 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.”

Family Law organisation, Resolution, have strongly supported the argument for a ‘no-fault divorce’ to be introduced and also supported the campaign for this case. According to Resolution, 9 in 10 family law professionals say that the current law makes it much more difficult to reduce conflict and confrontation between the parties. It would also significantly help those who are in unhappy marriages to formally end their marriage in a more conciliatory manner.

The full judgement can be seen here.

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