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Decision delivered in the case of Owens v Owens

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The Supreme Court has delivered its much-anticipated judgement in the case of Owens v Owens, a contested divorce case which has revived calls for no-fault divorce. Olivia Bailey, trainee solicitor in the family department at Harrison Drury explores further.

The Supreme court has unanimously dismissed the appeal of Tini Owens on the basis that she has failed to prove that the marriage had irretrievably broken down. Tini Owens will therefore remain in an unhappy marriage and may only obtain a divorce in 2020 when the parties have been separated for 5 years.

For details of the full background to the case, please see our previous blog.

In 2015 Mrs Owens was given permission to amend her original divorce petition to expand on her allegations of behaviour against Mr Owens, as he had decided to defend the proceedings.

It was also decided that a one-day hearing would take place to hear the evidence of the parties and that there would be no other witnesses in attendance. Mrs Owens amended her petition to include 27 specific examples of Mr Owens behaviour towards her, however at the hearing her barrister focussed on just a select few of these examples.

The judge found that the marriage had broken down but that the 27 examples of behaviour were weak, and that those relied on at the hearing were isolated incidents and Mrs Owens was not entitled to a divorce. The Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal, she then had permission to appeal to the Supreme Court which has now also rejected her case.

What will be the Impact of the Decision?

This decision has led to claims that there is a divorce crisis in England and Wales and that the Government needs to take urgent action to address the current process. Mrs Owens has not been able to obtain a divorce because she could not prove that her husband’s behaviour was at such a level that she could “no longer reasonably be expected to live with him”. This causes concern that divorcing couples will now embellish their divorce petitions to ensure that they can obtain a divorce. This will undoubtedly lead to inflamed circumstances for divorcing couples who may otherwise have been on amicable terms.

It is clear from the ruling that it’s time for change. On the 18th July a Private Members Bill was introduced to the House of Lords, which if enacted, would require the Government to start a review of the current law on divorce and also consider introducing a no fault-based system.

This system would still require the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, however to be evidenced by a) the making of an application to the court and b) the subsequent confirmation of the application. No further evidence would be required. We will await the progress of this bill and the government response to the decision made in the case of Owens v Owens.

Harrison Drury have a specialist team of family law experts offering advice on issues surrounding divorce and other family law matters. For more information please contact Olivia Bailey on 01772 428535.


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