'Unhappy' woman seeking divorce after 40 years must stay married, court rules

Charlene Craig
July 27, 2018

Five Supreme Court justices have ruled that Tini Owens of Broadway must stay married to Hugh Owens. She must now wait until 2020 for the marriage to end on the grounds that they will have been separated for five years.

The UK has stringent laws that only allow divorce if a person can prove the marriage has fallen apart because of adultery, unreasonable behavior or desertion.

Unusually, Mr Owens contested the divorce and the decision of the Family Court, then the Court of Appeal, was that Mrs Owens had not proved his behaviour meant she could not reasonably be expected to live with him.

"Naturally, Mrs Owens is devastated by this decision, which means that she can not move forward with her life and obtain her independence from Mr Owens".

There also continues to be a growing movement in support of no-fault divorce, and this case serves to advance the calls for reform, perhaps by reviving the failed efforts to introduce no-fault divorce in the aborted Family Law Act 1996.

Handing down its highly-awaited judgment in Owens v Owens, the court dismissed Tini Owens's appeal in relation to a lower court's decision to refuse to grant her a decree nisi, even though the judge had correctly found that the marriage had broken down.

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Writing in the Guardian, Jo Edwards, head of family at the London law firm Forsters LLP, says a change is the law is vital to stop the "damage" she has personally observed.

Mrs Owens had already lost two rounds of the battle.

The couple married in 1978 and have two children.

Nigel Shepherd of Resolution, the lawyers' group urging non-confrontational divorces, said: "There is now a divorce crisis in England and Wales, and the Government needs to take urgent action to address it".

Mr Owens, 80, will not agree to a divorce and denies his wife's allegations about his behaviour.

"I have found this a very troubling case", Judge Brenda Hale wrote.

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She says he has behaved unreasonably and that she should not reasonably be expected to stay married.

"This was a case which depended upon the cumulative effect of a great many small incidents said to be indicative of authoritarian, demeaning and humiliating conduct over a period of time", Hale wrote.

Barrister Philip Marshall, for Ms Owens, told Supreme Court justices a "modest shift" of focus in interpretation of legislation was required.

More than 70% of divorces are filed by wives, according to the Supreme Court-backed China Justice Big Data Service Platform.

"In practice, our current laws can often create unnecessary conflict in divorce - forcing couples to blame each other when there is no real need, other than a legal requirement, to do so".

The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were both keen to remind us that it is not for courts to usurp Parliament's sovereignty: the court's role is to interpret the law rather than change it.

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