The recent case of Owens v Owens from 2017 has brought defended divorces in to the news recently. The Owens case is presently being appealed at the Supreme Court because Mr Owens has, thus far, successfully been able to argue that his wife should not be entitled to divorce him.
The Nuffield Foundation has recently published a report as to why people choose to defend divorce petitions and the report also looked at how the Court deals with such cases.
Defending divorce petitions are quite rare and can be expensive – this report suggests that 2% of the cases analysed initially indicate that the Respondent will defend the divorce petition, with 1% then doing so. Even in those contested cases, the Court will generally encourage parties to reach a compromise before any trial takes place.
However, there will be many more parties who have chosen not to defend a divorce who believe that the divorce petition contains allegations that the respondent does not accept, but they then believe they cannot object to due to the likely time that this will take and the associated costs.
Because the majority of divorce petitions are “fault based”, it may well still be the case that many do “object” to being the party stated to be at fault and being blamed for the marriage breakdown. In such cases, the respondent might intellectually agree and accept that the marriage is over, but by acknowledging this, he or she is then accepting that the divorce should continue undefended and the opportunity to at least explain their position is as such then lost as well.
This report suggests that the current law may not be working for the majority of undefended divorces or for the few defended cases that occur each year. The report suggests that removing “fault” entirely and replacing this with a notification system (subject to specific criteria) would then avoid defended divorces but also the sense of “blame” being applied to either party. This in turn might also reduce acrimony between the parties with the greater and more beneficial impacts that this might have on all including any children.
This report is unlikely to pass into law, but may be a further indicator of where the law stands once the decision in the Owens appeal has been decided.
For a detailed account of the case please see Owens v Owens by Nicholas Buckle
If you live in Berkshire and you are considering starting divorce proceedings, or simply wish to receive some confidential information before deciding whether to proceed, please contact Paul Wild, our Family Partner, who offers an initial confidential fixed fee meeting for £95 including VAT.