There is a certain sense of desperation you can feel for Tini Owens after the Supreme Court ruled that she must stay in an unhappy marriage for another two years despite previously leaving the matrimonial home in February 2015.
Under the current law, a divorce can only be granted if the marriage has broken down to adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or living apart for five years. The current system is ‘fault-based’ where one spouse must place blame for the divorce with the other. This creates a burning sense of injustice because as the Ministry of Justice tweeted, “The current system of divorce creates unnecessary antagonism in an already difficult situation”. As people are living longer, it is likely that partners will fall out of love with each other and the case of Tini Owens only serves as a stark reminder of just how archaic our marriage laws are.
The Supreme Court’s ruling has trapped Tini Owens in a loveless marriage and without a divorce, there is no opportunity for Owens to move forward with her life. It is horrifying and frightening that a legal system can be used to force one partner to stay in an unhappy marriage. There was a solid basis for the Supreme Court to order a divorce after Mrs Owens cited 27 allegations about her husband’s “unreasonable behaviour” and she felt “constantly mistrusted”. Without being too controversial, could forcing Owens to stay in the marriage be seen as a form of coercive behaviour?
Coercive behaviour was outlawed in 2015 so arguably our marriage laws are outdated for modern society. Other countries often look towards our justice system as a source of inspiration but we should be ashamed of a legal system that forces a person to stay in an unhappy marriage.
If we want any further evidence that we are behind our counterparts, China has permitted a no-fault divorce based system since the 1950s. This is a country that is famed for its strong emphasis on marriage because they often call unmarried women in their 30s a “leftover women”. The fact that a no-fault divorce system is recognised in a country that is so preoccupied with idealism and romantic love only serves as a simple reminder that our marriage laws should be updated to recognise the needs of our ever-changing society.
The impact a fault-based system creates for forgotten parties in the divorce is often ignored. Speaking as a child of divorced parents, I am thankful that my parents were granted a divorce because when one of your parents is unhappy, it can eat at your own happiness. Children of parents who separate are more likely to drop out of education, commit crime and have mental health problems. Can it not be argued that children pick up on the tensions created by the fault-based divorce system?
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Ministry of Justice have said they are “already looking closely at possible reforms to the system”. Given the above reasons, a no-fault based system would recognise the needs of modern society and it is the best way to empower people to end their marriage but until the marriage laws are updated, the current fault-based divorce system is in disarray.