Owens vs Owens and the ‘no fault’ divorce

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Late July saw the Supreme Court give judgement in relation to divorce proceedings between Tini Owens and her millionaire husband Hugh Owens.

Mrs Owens had separated from Mr Owens in 2015, when she moved out of their home with them not living together since.

Despite having been separated that amount of time and in circumstances that clearly demonstrated the marriage was over, the Court could not grant Mrs Owens the divorce she wanted.

At the moment, to get a divorce in the UK you have to show that your marriage has ‘broken down irretrievably’. In order to demonstrate this, you must show one or more of the five facts set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act. These are:

  1. that the person being divorced (the respondent) has committed adultery and the person starting the proceedings (the petitioner) finds it intolerable to live with him or her
  2. that the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her
  3. that the respondent has deserted the petitioner for at least two years before the divorce proceedings are stated
  4. that the petitioner and the respondent have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years before the proceedings are started and the respondent agrees to their being a divorce
  5. that the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of five years before the divorce proceedings are started.

In the case of Hugh and Tini Owens, the Supreme Court considered the marriage had broken down but that Mrs Owens could not show that this was because of Mr Owen’s behaviour. As a result the Owens remain married to each other and Mrs Owens may not be able to get the divorce she wants until she and Mr Owens have lived apart for five years.

The Judges of the Supreme Court all expressed their unease about the decision they reached, but stated that they had to apply the law as it is. However, they went on to say that it is clear that it is time the law relating to divorce was overhauled so we have a ‘no fault’ system. Such a system was considered in the 1990s with the idea that a couple could get a divorce once they had been separated a period of time, but it was never implemented. Resolution, the Association of Family Lawyers, has for a long time been backing a campaign for a ‘no fault’ divorce in the UK.

Here at Ashtons we understand that separating from your husband or wife is an emotionally painful experience. The financial aspects of the separation have to be addressed, along with agreements concerning children and often, pets. Sadly however these difficult and emotionally charged discussions are heralded with a divorce petition ‘blaming’ one party over the other. The present divorce law has been with us since the 1970s and the huge changes in society should be reflected in new, updated law.


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