Courts deny wife divorce on husband’s unreasonable behaviour

The Supreme Court has today issued its judgment refusing an appeal made by Mrs Owens to an earlier decision by a court that she was not entitled to divorce her husband on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour.

The outcome of the appeal has been eagerly anticipated as Resolution (a national organisation of family lawyers) were given permission to intervene in the case and to make representations to the court.

The case has raised many arguments about the state of divorce law in this day and age and whether or not it’s still fit for purpose given today’s society.   Should we still be governed by a law made over 40 years ago which limits the grounds for divorce to adultery, unreasonable behaviour or periods of living apart of at least 2 years? Debate has centred on whether or not we should now move to #nofaultdivorce.

The facts of the case are quite straightforward. Mr and Mrs Owens got married in 1978 and had 2 grown up children. However by 2012 Mrs Owens was considering a divorce as she was unhappy in the marriage. In 2015 she moved out of the family home and issued a divorce petition based on her husband’s unreasonable behaviour.

She described Mr Owens as being moody, argumentative and disparaging her in front of others.

However Mr Owens did not agree with his wife’s assessment of their marriage as he denied his wife’s allegations and considered that their marriage had been largely successful.

An earlier court heard evidence from them both. The judge accepted that their marriage had broken down but did not accept Mrs Owens allegations about her husband’s behaviour and considered her examples were flimsy and exaggerated.

Mrs Owens took her appeal through to the Supreme Court who have today issued their judgment.

The Court did not uphold her appeal so Mrs Owens has to stay married to Mr Owens until 2020 when she can start new divorce proceedings based on the fact that they will have been separated for 5 years.

One of the appeal judges found this a very troubling case but stated that it was not for the Supreme Court to change the law laid down by Parliament.

This case is likely to be another spur to the campaign for #nofaultdivorce yet there are also concerns about the ability of couples to divorce on demand.

We will have to see how this case affects the day to day practice of divorce lawyers like myself. How are we going to balance trying to make a divorce petition as acceptable to the other party as possible to reduce conflict between a couple against the need to persuade a court that the other party’s behaviour is serious enough to warrant granting a divorce. Only time will tell so watch this space.


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