Mrs Owens – The Wife Who is Not Allowed a Divorce?
A recent Judgment in the UK Supreme Court has refused to allow Mrs Tini Owens the right to divorce her husband.
This is because the law which currently applies to divorce is over 40 years old and in urgent need of updating.
Whilst the case concerning Mrs Owens is very rare, it does highlight one of several current legal problems when getting divorced in England and Wales:
- Marriage for 1 year – if, after getting married, someone quickly realises that they have made a mistake, they cannot start the divorce process until after the first anniversary of their marriage
- Fault-based divorce – if a couple find that they have grown apart and decided they no longer want to be married to one another, they cannot simply get divorced straight away by mutual agreement, but instead one has to blame the other for the breakdown of their marriage based on ‘adultery’ or ‘behaviour’. This is known as a ‘fault-based’ divorce
- Separation before divorce – if a married couple have merely drifted apart and neither person has caused the breakdown of their marriage due to ‘fault’, they will have to live separate and part (but still remain married) for a minimum of least 2-years before they can start the divorce process with mutual consent. However, if one half of the couple refuses to give their consent, then their spouse might have to wait until they have lived separately for a total of 5 years before they can start the divorce process
Therefore, why has Mrs Owens not been allowed to divorce her husband now?
- Mr & Mrs Owens had been married for about 37 years when Mrs Owens left her husband in 2015. Mrs Owens felt that she could no longer live with her husband for various reasons including; him prioritising his work over their home life, his failure to provide her with love or affection, and him being moody and argumentative
- Mrs Owens wanted to move on with her life and divorce Mr Owens sooner rather than later. Therefore, she started the divorce process in 2015, based on her husband’s ‘behaviour’.
However, Mrs Owens tried to avoid making an already difficult situation any worse, by keeping the details of her husband’s ‘behaviour’ to a minimum (as is the accepted practice by family lawyers throughout England & Wales)
- Mr Owens refused to accept that he had done anything so wrong that his wife should be allowed to divorce him. This meant that a Family Court judge had to consider what both Mr & Mrs Owens had to say about what had happened during their marriage
- The judge’s decision includes; Mrs Owens had significantly exaggerated the context and seriousness of the allegations, Mr Owens was ‘somewhat old-school’, and Mrs Owens was more sensitive than most wives. This resulted in the judge deciding that Mr Owens behaviour was not so bad that Mrs Owens should be allowed to divorce him!
- That original judge’s decision was then considered in the ‘Court of Appeal’ and also the ‘Supreme Court’, but neither of those courts felt that the current law allowed them to overturn the original judge’s decision
- Even though Mr & Mrs Owens have now lived separately for over two years, Mr Owens still refuses to give his consent to a divorce. Therefore, Mrs Owens must now wait until 2020, when she can re-start the divorce process based on the fact of her having lived separately from her husband for 5 years, which does not require her husband’s consent. In the meantime, Mrs Owens is still married and cannot move on with her life, including that she cannot deal with financial issues until she can finally get divorced in 2020!
What this all means for Harold G Walker’s family lawyers, is that we must (and will) think even more carefully about how we help married people move on with their lives and the divorce process, whilst trying not making an already difficult situation even worse with arguments over allegations of ‘behaviour’. To discuss your options on divorce and related financial and children matters, a free 30 minutes consultation is available with one of the family lawyers.
For further information please contact the Family Law team