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Owens v Owens: Supreme Court Rules Mrs Owens Is Not Allowed Divorce

Mr Owens’ Behaviour Found To Not Be Sufficient Grounds For Divorce


Jenny Batchelor, Press Officer | 0207 421 3951

In a blow to no-fault divorce campaigners, the Supreme Court has upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal and the trial judge, therefore not granting Mrs Owens a divorce.

Mrs Owens was denied a divorce on the basis that Mr Owens’ behaviour and its impact upon her was not such that it was unreasonable to expect her to continue to live with him.  The Court of Appeal upheld that decision, finding that the judge had not made any legal error.

The Supreme Court stressed that the adopted shorthand term 'unreasonable behaviour' does not correctly reflect the legal test. The majority of the Court invited Parliament to consider replacing the current law.

Expert Opinion
“This is a very disappointing outcome for Mrs Owens who will now have to wait a further two years before she can restart the divorce process and petition on the basis of having been separated for five years. It is also disappointing for the family law community which has been trying to take the heat out of divorce and encourage separating couples to behave respectfully and where possible amicably towards each other. There is a concern that rather than allegations of behaviour being toned down, they will now be ‘beefed up’ to ensure they are accepted by the court.

Anyone who has been through a divorce will know that the process is emotionally draining enough without the added stress of assigning blame at the doorstep at one of the parties involved. Having to make allegations of bad behaviour inflames the situation and creates an unnecessarily hostile environment in which to negotiate about children and financial matters, which can create emotionally devastating situations.

It is hoped that this outcome does not encourage more defended divorces and a ‘he said/she said’ approach. Many people do not understand that most types of ‘bad behaviour’ will not make any difference at all to the financial outcome, so arguments over the reason for the breakdown of the relationship are simply not financially worthwhile, indeed they serve only to deplete the family’s funds.

There is still clear appetite for sweeping reform within the family law sphere. As Lord Wilson noted, it is for Parliament to decide if the law remains satisfactory. On Friday 20 July, Baroness Butler-Sloss laid a Bill before the House of Lords which proposes a review of the law within six months and suggests a structure whereby either or both parties could begin divorce proceedings and then confirm the divorce nine months later without alleging fault. The result of this case makes such reform all the more urgent.

There is not yet a date for a second reading of the Bill; with the summer recess upon us it is likely to be some time before the bill is considered properly. Sadly, there are various historic examples of much needed family law reform being proposed but not making it on to the statute books or coming into force. However we very much hope that this marks the beginning of a positive change to the law and shows the law is finally catching up with modern life.”
Ros Bever, Partner

Divorces are not only very hard on families, but they require a lot of investment and legal action. Find out how our divorce solicitors can help make this process as easy as possible.