The judgement in the recent Supreme Court Appeal case of Owens and Owens was not what many people hoped for.
Mrs Owens launched an appeal after having her Divorce Petition on the grounds of her husband’s behaviour refused. The lower Court had concluded that her husband’s behaviour was not “unreasonable”. The Supreme Court dismissed Mrs Owen’s appeal but felt uneasy stating that the Court had applied the law correctly.
Currently the law states that to obtain a Divorce it must be proved that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is proved by one of 5 available grounds including behaviour. The Respondent must have behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent. The test is an objective one with subjective elements. The lower court did not find that Mr. Owen’s behaviour was unreasonable, but the court did agree that the marriage had broken down. Lady Hale suggested that allowing the appeal and directing a retrial might produce a different result but that came with no guarantees. Mrs Owens explicitly informed the court that she did not want a retrial.
With its judgement the Supreme Court did urge the Government to revise the law on Divorce in its current format. Currently there is a private members bill before the House of Lords introduced by former Family Division President Baroness Butler-Sloss. The Bill if passed will require a review of the current system within 6 months. It could give rise to what a lot of separating couples are seeking…i.e. a “no fault Divorce.” Currently, couples must wait 2 years before they can apply to the Court for a Divorce Petition on the grounds of separation with the consent of the other party. If one party objects, then the Petitioner must wait until 5 years after separation.
Family dynamics have changed enormously since 1973. The law is now out of step and must be changed as soon as possible to end the misery of people like Mrs Owens, trapped in a loveless marriage.