Trapped in a Loveless Marriage? Owens v OwensPepperells
June 25 brought the much-awaited Supreme Court Judgment in the matter of Owens v Owens, a lady who sought to divorce her husband on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour. The lower Courts had ruled that Mr Owens’ behaviour was not so unreasonable as to find that Mrs Owens could not reasonably be expected to live with him. Therefore, in a circumstance where Mr Owens defended the divorce, she was not entitled to a divorce.
The Supreme Court has today upheld that decision and Mrs Owens’ appeal has been dismissed. In the words of the Supreme Court Judgment: She must remain married to Mr Owens for the time being.
As the Judgment reminds us, once she has lived apart from him for a further two years the law does provide for a divorce on the basis of five years’ continuous separation, but of course this leaves her simply sitting and waiting.
This case has undoubtedly been a painful one for all. It is clear that the Lord and Lady Justices hearing the matter have found it for the most part troubling and regretful. There are loud calls for Parliament to review the law so this does not happen again. Resolution, the family lawyers group of which I am a member, has recently campaigned for a ‘no fault’ divorce, which would reduce animosity during the breakdown of relationships and allow people to move forward with dignity.
Contested divorces are extremely rare, but this case reminds us that as practitioners we should always consider every eventuality. We will wait to see whether this case brings about any meaningful change in the law.
The full Judgment can be found here: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2017-0077-judgment.pdf