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No Fault Divorce – Will there be reforms to the divorce system in the wake of Owens v Owens

Sep 10th, 2018

In July the Supreme Court ruled that Mrs Owens should remain married to her husband of 38 years. She applied to the family court for a divorce citing 27 allegations about the way Mr Owens had treated her during the marriage which she felt had amounted to unreasonable behaviour. Mr Owens was opposed to the divorce and said they still had “a few years” in life to enjoy together – even if that meant carrying on living next door to each other.

In a family court ruling last year the Judge refused to grant a divorce on the basis Mrs Owen’s allegations were “minor altercations of the kind to be expected in marriage”. Subsequently Mrs Owens took the case to the Court of Appeal. However, the appeal Judges analysed the case and upheld the original ruling.

Sir James Munby, one of the appeal Judges and the President of the Family Court in England & Wales said “We cannot interfere with Judge Toulson’s decision, and refuse the wife the decree of divorce she sought. He said that the original family court had correctly concluded that the marriage had not “in law” irretrievably broken down. She will now have to wait until she has been separated for 5 years before she is eligible for a divorce.

UK Divorce Law - Time for Reform

Currently in England & Wales it is only possible for parties to obtain a divorce in the first two years after separation based on adultery or unreasonable behaviour. After two years separation you can obtain a divorce with the other’s consent. If one party does not agree you have to wait until you have ben separated for five years.

This case highlights the inadequacies in law of the fault based divorce. Clearly if one party is willing to go to the Court of Appeal to seek a divorce, the differences within their marriage are irreconcilable. In response to the decision Resolution have indicated that they are repeating their call to the government to change the law and introduce no fault divorce adding that it is simply wrong to have to ask a Judge to rule on who did what in a marriage in a modern society such as ours.

In July 2018 Baroness Butler-Sloss introduced a private member’s bill committing the Lord Chancellor to review divorce and separation laws. The Justice Secretary has now said that he will start a consultation on introducing a no fault divorce. It now looks like a reform is on it’s way.

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