Major reform to our Divorce laws could follow in the wake of a recent high-profile Divorce case. The government has said it is already “looking closely” at reforms to the Divorce system after the Supreme Court in the case of Owens v Owens ruled that a 68-year-old woman must remain married to her Husband.
Mr and Mrs Owens married in 1978 and have two grown up children. In February 2015 Mrs Owens moved out of the family home and in May 2015 she issued a Divorce petition based on Unreasonable Behaviour. This was the only ground available to her at that time as there had not been any adultery and they had not lived apart for two or more years, or for five years which would not require her Husband’s consent to the Divorce.
The Petitioner (Mrs Owens in this case) has to satisfy the court that the Respondent (Mr Owens) has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent. Mrs Owens gave particulars of instances as evidence of this and described the marriage as “loveless and unhappy”, describing herself as “unloved , isolated and alone”. These types of cases would normally proceed undefended (in 2016 only 17 cases in England and Wales proceeded to a contested hearing out of 114,000 applications). In this case however Mr Owens defended the proceedings, arguing at the trial that the examples given of his behaviour were not enough to satisfy the test. Whilst the judge found that the marriage had broken down, he ultimately agreed with Mr Owens and dismissed the Divorce petition. Mrs Owens pursued two appeals, losing them both. She has been left in No Man’s Land and will now have to wait until 2020, when they have lived apart for five years, to issue another set of Divorce proceedings .
The case has prompted renewed calls from the public and from Family Solicitors, for Divorce law to be reformed so that fault does not have to be proved. Divorce can be a gruelling and painful process and introduction of a “no fault” Divorce would introduce some much needed kindness to the process.