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Will the supreme court grant Mrs Owens her divorce?

View profile for Philip Hoddell
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Later this week, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Owens v Owens, where, after 37 years of marriage, Mrs Owens issued divorce proceedings based on her husband’s unreasonable behaviour. Mr Owens did not want to get divorced (some have suggested that opposing the divorce gave the added advantage of not having to settle the financial claims of Mrs Owens). A county court and then the Court of Appeal both agreed with Mr Owens, broadly because Mrs Owens’ divorce petition was not strong enough and the allegations of unreasonable behaviour were not serious enough for the court to grant a divorce.  
 
The law in this country does not allow a couple to get divorced just because they want to (unless they have been separated for at least 2 years). We do not have ‘no fault’ divorce law, although many think that we should. It is a difficult balance, but it seems to me that this case does highlight two very important points:-
 
  1. It came out in the divorce that Mrs Owens had in fact had a relationship with someone else. I wonder whether, far from modernising its views, the court took against her because of that?  
  2. The Court of Appeal was led by the President of the Family Division who actually said in his judgement that there were “many” who held the view that the law should change and that it was “badly out of date”. I wonder whether the Court of Appeal was hoping that the case would be appealed to the Supreme Court, as its judgements can be quite influential on governments when it comes to changes to the law. 
The Supreme Court has in recent years shown that it is not shy of making controversial judgements where it feels that the values of society are outpacing the speed of legislative change. This may be one of those cases. If Mrs Owens is denied her divorce then she will continue to be a standard bearer for all those who want to change the law. If her divorce is granted then it will reinforce the existing view taken by many divorce lawyers which is that it is usually possible for one spouse to divorce the other for unreasonable behaviour, particularly after a lengthy marriage where there may have been considerable ‘ups and downs’ over a period of many years.  
 
Of course, had Mrs Owens’ solicitors drafted a rather stronger divorce petition in the first place it may well be that we would never have heard of this couple and that the pressure for legislative change would have remained more academic than actual.  
 
It is important to prepare legal documents carefully and thoroughly. If this is something that we can help you with then why not give one of our divorce and separation specialists call on 01206 217320. Alternatively you can email me at philip.hoddell@birkettlong.co.uk.

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