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Owens –v- Owens – Forced to remain married


Beth Mason | Associates | Family Department

The Supreme Court have refused the Appeal of Mrs Owens against the decision of lower courts not to allow her divorce petition to proceed.  Mrs Owens issued her petition in May 2015 on the basis that the marriage had broken down irretrievably and that Mr Owens had behaved in such a way that she should not reasonably be expected to live with him.  Mr Owens refused to accept the end of the marriage and defended the petition.  Mrs Owens’ petition was later amended to include 27 examples of Mr Owens’ behaviour but the Judge found that, although the marriage had broken down, Mrs Owens’ examples of behaviour were flimsy and exaggerated and that those relied on at the hearing were isolated incidents.  Mrs Owens’ petition was dismissed.

Mrs Owens appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal and finally to the Supreme Court.

Although the Judges of the Supreme Court were unanimous in dismissing the appeal they expressed some concerns about the first instance judgment.  Lady Hale in particular was of the view that the proper course of action would be to refer the matter back to the first instance court to be re-heard.  However, as that was not an outcome Mrs Owens was seeking (due to the costs and delay it would cause), Lady Hale reluctantly agreed that the appeal should be dismissed.

The judgment needs to be considered in the context of this type of dispute.  Defended divorce suits are extremely rare and even in the small number of instances in which a defence is raised the vast majority of petitions will succeed.  Although Judges continue to have to apply the same statutory provisions, the application to the facts of individual cases will change over time in line with social and moral values.

Pressure will undoubtedly continue to be applied to Parliament to consider amending the law to provide divorce on a no fault basis but in the meantime the reality is that the vast majority of petitions made under the heading of behaviour will succeed.

If you require any assistance in relation to divorce or associated matters please contact the Family Team who will be happy to assist.

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