English court rules woman must stay in 'loveless' marriage

Hugh Fox
July 27, 2018

An "unhappy" British woman who wants to divorce her husband of 40 years has lost a Supreme Court appeal.

Today's judgment that Tini Owens must remain married to her husband, Hugh, could well have a wider impact beyond the very sad situation she now finds herself in.

Lord Wilson noted in the judgment that Tini would be able to divorce in 2020, when the couple will have been separated for five years and she will be eligible for a divorce without consent or evidence of fault.

Grounds include, separation, adultery, desertion, or if one person has behaved in such a way that their partner can not be reasonably expected to live with them.

"Sadly for Ms. Owens, she will have to wait until 5 years separation gives her grounds for divorce which is surely a failure for the family courts".

Mrs Owens' lawyer said she was "devastated by this decision, which means that she can not move forward with her life".

She alleged the marriage had broken down irretrievably and Mr Owens had behaved in such a way that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him.

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This is despite pleas by Mrs Owens that the current state of the law is out of touch with changing social values.

The couple have two grown children together, who are in their 30s.

Resolution, the association for family lawyers, is calling for the introduction of no-fault divorce - a move which many family lawyers support.

Freedom to marry and divorce are both guaranteed by the law, but partners must uphold the "dignity of marriage", Li said.

They argued she should not have had to prove Mr Owens' behaviour has been "unreasonable", only that she should not "reasonably be expected" to remain with him.

The Supreme Court's decision today also means that getting divorced in England and Wales will remain, in principle, more complex than in dozens of other jurisdictions, including Chile, China and Russian Federation where "no fault" divorce exists (for more detail see Penningtons Manches' recent worldwide barometer report).

Mr Owens, 80, will not agree to a divorce and denies his wife's allegations about his behaviour.

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Another said Parliament had "decreed" that being in a "wretchedly unhappy marriage" was not grounds for divorce.

Resolution said the case was "troubling".

Barrister Philip Marshall QC, who leads Mrs Owens' legal team, told Supreme Court justices that a "modest shift" of focus in interpretation of legislation was required.

In fact, parliament has already passed the Family Law Act 1996, which would have introduced a no-fault divorce law.

Hugh's lawyer said the Supreme Court got it right because Tini "was essentially advocating divorce by unilateral demand". The reality is that the law can only be changed by Parliament - but it doesn't appear that change is coming any time soon.

She said she had been "reluctantly persuaded" that the appeal should be dismissed.

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