Diane Mathews from our family team here at Watson Ramsbottom comments “Do we really need to ask the Supreme Court for a Divorce? Well that is exactly what Mrs Owens is doing on the 17th May! In March of 2017 The Court of Appeal accepted that Mrs Owens’s marriage HAD ended but it also upheld the decision of the trial Judge that her Husband of almost 40 years had not behaved in such a way that it would be unreasonable to expect her to live with him, as the law requires. In effect Mrs Owens was compelled to wait for a period of five years to bring her marriage to an end. Is this fair and in line with modern thinking? Let’s see what the Supreme Court thinks!”
The recent case Owens v Owens relates to a woman who was refused permission to divorce her husband by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Mrs. Owens is now to take her case to the Supreme Court.
Mrs. Owens originally petitioned for divorce relying on five allegations to bring her 39 year old marriage to an end. She claimed that the relationship had broken down irretrievably due to her husband’s unreasonable behaviour. However, Mr. Owens contested the application, stating that, in his view, the marriage had not broken down and that the parties could reconcile and continue to cohabit. Unusually, the Family Court Judge ruled in his favour and refused Mrs. Owens’ petition. This effectively compelled Mrs. Owens to wait for a period of five years to pass from the date of separation before she could petition for divorce.
So far Mrs. Owens has failed to convince Judges in the High Court and Court of Appeal to overturn the decision. She has now been granted permission to take her case to the Supreme Court and she is to be supported by Resolution who will seek to be joined as a party to the proceedings. The proceedings in question are seen as an opportunity to influence the course of modern divorce law and it appears to reinforce the demand for “no fault divorce” (#abetterway).
Unreasonable behaviour petitions are often regarded by experienced Family Lawyers as a cause of unnecessary difficulties between divorcing couples and they can be counterproductive to a swift and cost effective settlement. Particularly for couples with children, such petitions risk making it more difficult for the parents to work together and co-parent effectively.
This interesting case is, sadly, a sober reflection that the current law is outdated and does not reflect modern thinking. In this area Family Lawyers try to find constructive ways of moving cases forward, despite the law rather than with its assistance. We are now awaiting the outcome of the appeal to the Supreme Court.
It remains unusual for petitions to be defended by the Respondents. Statistically this happens in 1% of cases. Frequently both parties accept that the marriage has broken down and acknowledge that the impact, both financially and emotionally, of a defended divorce is unacceptable and unnecessary.
It must be noted that, in cases where the parties are wealthy (this case involved a wealthy family) and one party does not want to dissolve the marriage, the fear of high legal costs will not deter that party from defending the proceedings.
In the light of the above, it remains very important to look for specialist legal advice to ensure that, if an unreasonable behaviour petition is challenged, it has been pleaded in such a way that it will be upheld by the Court.