Today, Tini Owens discovered that the highest court in the UK has refused her divorce. She has described her experience as being trapped in a “loveless and desperately unhappy” marriage. The heartbreaking case demonstrates clearly why divorce laws need to be reformed urgently, with the introduction of no fault divorce.
Tini Owens, who is 68, sought a divorce from her 80-year-old husband on the grounds that his behaviour meant she could not reasonably be expected to live with him. At present, it is not possible for a couple to divorce without blame being apportioned unless they have separated for at least two years. They are required to either record details of their partner’s adultery or their behaviour.
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. This meant that the couple could not divorce until 2020.
On Thursday 25 July, the Supreme Court refused Mrs Owen’s appeal.
This case meant a great deal to so many people facing divorce and having to allege fault against their spouse. Whilst it is clear that the Supreme Court were not comfortable with that approach, they were ultimately hamstrung by the legislation and had to abide with it. Lady Hale, Britain’s most senior female judge, said: “I have found this case very troubling. It is not for us to change the law laid down by Parliament - our role is only to interpret and apply the law.”
Resolution, the association for family lawyers, is calling for the introduction of no-fault divorce – a move which many family lawyers support.
The requirement for divorcing couples to blame their spouse in a written court document rubs against the grain for many people who don’t want to antagonise an already difficult situation. Marriages often break down due to the fault of neither party. Couples can drift apart, develop different priorities or want to go their separate ways for any variety of reasons for which they should not necessarily be blamed. Much of this is human nature rather than something that ought to warrant the court’s disapproval.
Ultimately, it has to be wrong to tell couples that if you want to move on with your lives one of you has to blame the other for your separation.
Figures released by Resolution show wide-spread dissatisfaction with the current law among family lawyers. 90% of family law professionals agree that the current law makes it harder for them to reduce conflict and confrontation; 80% believe that the introduction of no-fault divorce would make it more likely for separated couples to reach an agreement out of court; and 67% say that the current law makes it harder for separated parents to reach an amicable agreement over arrangements for children.
What is clear is that there is growing support for no-fault divorce, but this will be little comfort to Tini Owens who must remain in her loveless marriage until 2020 before she can get divorced. Fortunately, for the vast majority of people defended divorces such as this one are extremely rare and both clients and lawyers find their way through the difficulties to reach an agreement.