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Renewed calls for no fault divorce as Supreme Court hears Owens v Owens

Date:17 MAY 2018
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The Supreme Court has commenced its hearing of the appeal of Owens v Owens, where Tini Owens has been denied a divorce on the grounds that her husband’s behaviour was not deemed ‘unreasonable’ enough for the purposes of the divorce petition.

Family justice body Resolution has been granted exclusive permission to intervene in the case on behalf of Mrs Owens, arguing that the current law can be applied in a way that allows her the divorce she is seeking. However, the organisation claims that irrespective of the outcome in the Supreme Court the law should be changed to avoid such cases coming before the courts in the future.

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Simon Beccle, Mrs Owens’ solicitor and Partner at Payne Hicks Beach, said:

‘The hearing at the Supreme Court today has been eagerly anticipated and attention has focused on the current law and the need for reform, but legislation will take a significant period of time to introduce and will not assist Tini Owens. However, this Appeal is not about the Supreme Court changing the law, nor indeed is it about the concept of “no fault divorce”. Rather, it concerns the proper interpretation and application of s 1(2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the statute that applies when one person wishes to divorce another in England & Wales. That legislation provides that a divorce may be granted on the sole ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably...

Mrs Owens’ case is that the focus of the Court should be on the effect Mr Owens’ behaviour has had on her, and that Judge Tolson QC misapplied the law, incorrectly seeking to establish whether Mr Owens’ behaviour towards her amounted to “unreasonable behaviour". Further, she will argue that the statute is currently being misinterpreted by the Courts requiring proof by the party seeking a divorce of the other’s “unreasonable behaviour” and an investigation of "fault". Mrs Owens’ position is that this is not, in fact, necessary, nor what Parliament intended.'
To mark the Supreme Court hearing members of Resolution and other family law representatives including Relate, One Plus One and University of Exeter Professor Liz Trinder took to Parliament this morning to once again call on the Government to introduce no fault divorce.

In a new survey of professionals by Resolution, 9 out of 10 agreed the current law makes it harder for them to reduce conflict and confrontation between clients and their ex-partners. Resolution has campaigned for no-fault divorce for decades, and their call for reform has recently been echoed by the Marriage Foundation, the President of the Family Division, and the President of the Supreme Court.

Nigel Shepherd, immediate past Chair of Resolution, said:

‘Our current laws can often create unnecessary conflict in divorce, forcing many couples to blame each other when there is no real need – other than a legal requirement – to do so. This conflict is detrimental to the couples themselves, and, crucially, any children they may have.

We want to see a system fit for the modern age, where separating couples are treated like responsible adults, and are allowed to resolve their differences as amicably as possible without having to sling mud at each other. It is ridiculous that Mrs Owens has to come to the highest court in the land in order to escape a loveless marriage. The Government needs to grasp the nettle and end the blame game.’

Resolution National Chair, Margaret Heathcote, added:

‘There is no evidence that fault acts as a buffer to slow the divorce process, and the petition plays no part in determining other factors, such as financial arrangements or what happens to any children the couple may have.

The current system is outdated, unfair, and unnecessary. It’s high time that we brought more maturity and transparency into the divorce process.’