In the second of our series of articles focussing on family issues, we ask if divorce law is out-of-step with modern day relationships?
A woman who filed for divorce was forced to stay in a “loveless marriage” following a Supreme Court ruling. This begs the question: is divorce law in need of updating?
Tini Owens, 68, and Hugh John Owens, 80, separated in February 2015, after 37 of marriage. Together they had two children, both adult and independent at the time of Tini’s application.
What Are the Legal Grounds for Divorce?
In England and Wales, the only legal ground for divorce is an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as a result of either:
- unreasonable behaviour
- two years separation with consent
- five years separation without consent
Tini Owens asked the court to grant her divorce on the grounds of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour. This included his mood swings, lack of love and care and affection, and him prioritising his work over their home life.
Mr Owens objected, stating that these behaviours were not out of the ordinary in the course of any marriage. The judge agreed and did not consider that the evidence provided by Tini was sufficient for a divorce.
Tini’s appeal was rejected by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court stated that current divorce law was antiquated and in need of change, but that its role was to interpret the law, not change it. It urged Parliament to move the law forwards in line with modern times.
Society has evolved since divorce law was introduced 50 years ago, and it is clear that the current law leaves Mrs Owens stuck in a loveless marriage, at least until February 2020, when she can divorce Mr Owens on the basis of five years without his consent.
Following the outcome of this case, the Justice Secretary announced plans to introduce no fault divorce and has launched a formal consultation. This is a significant step forwards after many years campaigning for a change in the law.
However, this case serves as a reminder that applications for divorce must be in considered carefully so that applicants are not left in the position that Mrs Owens now finds herself in.
For expert legal advice on divorce and family law, please contact Sam Hickman at award-winning law firm VWV on 0117 314 5435.