Tini Owens wanted to divorce her husband of 40 years, Hugh Owens, 6 years ago, although she first petitioned for divorce in 2015. She said that he treated her like a child, criticised her in public and was moody. The couple have lived separately since 2015. Yet despite Mrs Owens’s clear view that her marriage had broken down, the Supreme Court ruled this week that she would have to stay married to her husband until 2020.
Mrs Owens had tried to prove to the court that she could no longer reasonably be expected to live with Mr Owens due to his unreasonable behaviour. If the other spouse does not consent to the divorce, then you must either wait until you have been separated for 5 years to divorce or use one of the blame based “facts” to prove the marriage has broken down, ie adultery or unreasonable behaviour (or rarely used, desertion).
This is an unusual case because unlike, the majority of spouses who are faced with a divorce petition, Mr Owens decided to defend the divorce. This was because he did not agree that the marriage was over. Generally speaking, if one spouse decides that the marriage is over, the other spouse understands they cannot force their husband or wife to remain in the marriage and they cooperate with the divorce. Not so for Mr Owens.
The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the family court and the Court of Appeal that Mrs Owens’s reasons for wishing to divorce her husband were not sufficient to prove that the marriage had broken down. The judge said that whilst Mr Owens was “old school”, his behaviour did not warrant the divorce his wife wanted.
The case really highlights the need for a “no fault” divorce, where it is not necessary to produce a list of hurtful and damaging examples of your ex’s behaviour. Many of my clients are astounded that unless they can wait 2 or 5 years to divorce on the basis of separation, they will have to do this. Despite the difficulties that have gone before, they recognise that to do this will only cause more hurt and conflict in an already distressing situation. This can lead to increased tensions and make resolving issues in relation to your children and finances that bit harder.
If you are in this situation I can advise you what your options are: whether you do decide to wait 2 or 5 years to separate, or, if you do need to issue a divorce using unreasonable behaviour, how to go about this with a minimum of acrimony whilst still ensuring that you will not find yourself in Tini Owens’ position of the court rejecting your divorce.
For assistance with this type of situation or any other Family Law matter please contact Hannah Millrain.