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Owens .v. Owens – has UK divorce just got more difficult?

26th July 2018

The long-awaited decision of the Supreme Court in the defended divorce of Mr & Mrs Owens was finally delivered today (Wednesday 25 July). Sadly Mrs Owens will remain locked in her loveless marriage until 2020, by which time she will have been separated for five years.

Whilst it was acknowledged that the current law had not kept pace with modern relationships, the Supreme Court was satisfied that the existing law had been correctly interpreted and the judge had been entirely justified in reaching his conclusion that the behaviour Mrs Owens complained of was not sufficient in the overall context of the case to justify the breakdown of the marriage.

The family lawyers’ organisation Resolution, which intervened in the proceedings, expressed disappointment at the decision and called for the government to take up the mantle and consider long-overdue changes to the law. Leading family lawyers around the country have echoed these sentiments, calling for the introduction of no-fault divorce.

We can only wait to see whether the decision has an impact on day-to-day legal practice. Family lawyers have for a long time been relying on watered-down allegations of behaviour in order to achieve a divorce as amicably as possible. Many have actively discouraged their clients from making detailed and often contentious allegations in this context. Only time will tell whether judges will refuse undefended petitions on the grounds that the allegations made are too weak, and whether we are about to see a surge in allegations containing more detailed descriptions of ‘unreasonable’ leading to an increase in the number of divorce cases being defended through the courts.

So much time and effort has been spent by family law practitioners embracing mediation and attempting to pursue no-court solutions to relationship breakdown – surely it is unacceptable for the government simply to ignore the fact that our legal system does not support these ideals. With no funding available to assist the majority of divorce litigants, how many people could now be locked in loveless and unhappy relationships?

Tina Day. Head of Family

Family Law, General, George Ide, News
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