‘Til Death do us Part?

2nd August 2018

The Supreme Court has delivered a landmark verdict which is likely to lead to a change in divorce laws. The Court has refused to grant a divorce on the grounds that the differences between the parties were insignificant and the type to be expected in most marriages.

Mr and Mrs Owens married in 1978 and separated in February 2015. They now have two adult children. Mrs Owens filed her divorce petition on 6 May 2015 on the basis that Mr Owens had behaved in such a way that she cannot reasonably be expected to live with him. Mr Owens filed his acknowledgement of service on 16 July 2015, indicating his intention to defend the divorce on the basis that whilst they had a strained relationship at times, it had not irretrievably broken down.

The contested divorce proceedings came before Courts initially on 15 January 2016. By this time, Mrs Owens had made 27 allegations in support of her petition. Judge Tolson QC heard oral evidence from both parties and determined that Mr Owens had not behaved in such a way that Mrs Owens could not reasonably be expected to live with him. He dismissed her petition.

Mrs Owens appealed against this decision to the Court of Appeal, but her appeal was dismissed. She then appealed against the Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court upheld the earlier courts decisions that Mrs Owens would not be granted a divorce despite an unhappy relationship. Both Courts had found that Mr Owen’s behaviour had been tantamount to ‘minor altercations of a kind to be expected in a marriage’.

The result is that Mrs Owens must remain married to Mr Owens for the time being. Lord Wilson gave the majority judgment, with which Lord Hodge and Lady Black agreed. Lord Wilson said ‘there was no denying that Mrs Owens’ appeal generates uneasy feelings’. However, he said ‘uneasy feelings are of no consequence in this court, nor indeed in any other appellate court’.

Despite their unanimous rejection of Mrs Owens’ Appeal, the majority view of the Court encouraged Parliament to consider replacing the current law under which Mrs Owens failed to persuade the Court to grant her a divorce from Mr Owens.

That invitation is likely to be accepted by Parliament given that the laws relating to divorce have not changed in over 40 years. The indication from the Supreme Court is that any effort to modernise the law in this area is long overdue.

If you are contemplating a divorce, this case emphasises the need to seek specialist legal advice. Ansons’ Laura Lambert will be able to assist you and can be contacted on 01543 431996 or