Crockett Solicitors

Unhappy marriage not grounds for divorce

Tini Owens wanted to Hugh Owens after 40 years of marriage, citing an unhappy marriage as a grounds for divorce. The supreme court judges overseeing the case “reluctantly” told her she must remain marriage because an unhappy marriage is not adequate grounds for a divorce if one spouse refuses to agree.

Five judges at the UK’s highest court unanimously upheld rulings by both the family law court and the court of appeal that the marriage must continue because the grounds for divorce had not been set out according the to legal grounds of divorce, which are:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion of one spouse by the other
  • Two years’ separation if your spouse agrees to the divorce
  • Five years’ separation without consent of your spouse

Mrs Owens was told that she must remain married to Mr Owens for the time being. The supreme judge Lord Wilson said, “Parliament may wish to consider whether to replace a law which denies to Mrs Owens any present entitlement to a divorce in the above circumstances.”

This case threw the case for no-fault divorce into the spotlight. Even spouses mutually seeking to end a marriage must, unless they have been living apart, assign blame and make often damaging allegations that lawyers say inflame potentially amicable proceedings. In this instance, Mr and Mr Owens have two grown up children, but all too often a divorce that apportions blame can case problem between the parents of young children and this can lead to bitter battles over child maintenance, contact and sometimes residency of the children.

Mrs Owens first consulted solicitors about a divorce in 2012 and the couple continued to live together until February 2015 until she finally petitioned for divorce in May 2015, alleging that her husband had prioritised his work over their relationship, he lacked love and affection towards her, he was often moody and argumentative and he had run her in front of others. She said that because of this she had grown apart from him.

My Owens denied these allegations and said that although there was not high emotion between them, they had learned to “rub along”. He said he still hoped his wife would change her mind and return to live with him.

In an initial hearing in October 2015 a judge allowed Mrs Owens to expand her grounds for divorce to 27 examples but he went on to dismiss her petition as he said that the grounds for divorce were “flimsy and exaggerated”. He said that Mr Owens was “somewhat old-school” and that Mrs Owens was more sensitive than most wives.

Mrs Owens took her petition to the court of appeal, where it was again dismissed. The three appeal court judges said she had failed to establish, in the legal sense, that her marriage had irretrievably broken down, despite one saying she had reached her conclusion with “no enthusiasm whatsoever”.

The supreme court’s judgment was her last hope. Lord Wilson noted in the judgment that Mrs Owens would be able to divorce in 2020, when the couple would have been separated for five years and she will be eligible for a divorce without consent or evidence of fault.

Resolution, an organisation that represents family law lawyers including Crockett and Co. Solicitors in Leeds, supports the introduction of no-fault divorce.  Nigel Shepherd, the body’s former chair and long time campaigner for no-fault divorce, said: “Resolution intervened on behalf of Mrs Owens because we believed that under the current law there should be a way to free her from a marriage that is clearly over. In practice, our current laws can often create unnecessary conflict in divorce – forcing couples to blame each other when there is no real need, other than a legal requirement, to do so. For over 30 years Resolution has been campaigning for a system fit for a modern age, where separating couples are treated like responsible adults and supported to resolve their differences as amicably as possible.”

If you are considering a divorce then it is essential that you get the grounds right from the outset so that it can be established that you can divorce for one of the reasons above. This is often a delicate balance, as if you decide to divorce on grounds of unreasonable behaviour then a long and detailed list of misdemeanours of one spouse against another can cause acrimony and this is in nobody’s interests, especially when there are children involved. If you based in Harehills, Leeds or anywhere in Yorkshire and would like advice, please drop into one of our advice clinics or contact us to make an appointment. We are here to help.

Crockett & Co. Solicitors supports the case for no blame divorce.

Crockett Solicitors

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