The Supreme Court judgement in Owens v Owens was handed down on 25th July 2018. The appeal by Mrs Owens was reluctantly unanimously dismissed.
Mr and Mrs Owens were married in 1978 and separated in February 2015 when Mrs Owens left the family home.
In her application for a divorce, Mrs Owens relied on the fact of unreasonable behaviour; she used examples which included that Mr Owens suffered from mood swings, not showing her love and affection or supporting her role as a homemaker. Mr Owens has defended the divorce. The case has then made its way through court system with a first instance decision, Court of Appeal decision and finally a Supreme Court decision.
Lord Wilson, with whom Lord Hodge and Lady Black agreed, held that Mrs Owens could not get divorced from her husband as Mr Owens’ behaviour was not unreasonable. Mr and Mrs Owens have been separated for three years and Lord Wilson did identify that Mrs Owens could apply for a divorce using five years’ separation in 2020.
In her judgement, Lady Hale stated that she found the case ‘very troubling’ but said ‘it is not for us to change the law laid down by parliament – our role is only to interpret and apply the law that parliament has given us.’
This ruling has prompted renewed calls from Family Solicitors for divorce laws to be updated so that fault does not have to be proved.
What does this mean for the future?
Family law group, Resolution, which intervened in Owens v Owens said that since the unsuccessful attempt to introduce no-fault divorce in the 1996 Family Law Act, more than 1.7 million people have cited adultery or unreasonable behaviour in their divorce petition.
Baroness Butler-Sloss introduced a Private Member’s bill committing the Lord Chancellor to review divorce and separation laws. The Ministry of Justice says ministers will work with colleagues across the House on family law reforms, including Butler-Sloss’s Divorce Law Review Bill.
Even though Mrs Owens may have been defeated in her application, the Supreme Court have made it clear that it is up to Parliament to change the law. It would appear that with Butler-Sloss’ Bill no fault divorce could be introduced.
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