The Supreme Court has handed down its judgement today in the Owens v Owens case, finding that Mrs Owens must stay married for the time being.
The case has been extremely high profile since the original family law judge refused Mrs Owens’ divorce petition in 2015.
Mr and Mrs Owens, now aged 80 and 68 respectively, married in 1978. They have two grown up children and are both wealthy after Mrs Owens supported her husband whilst he built up the family business. Mrs Owens left the family home, which is a mansion in Gloucestershire, in February 2015. She filed for divorce later that year, citing unreasonable behaviour and saying that she could not live with her husband any more. Some of the allegations against Mr Owens were that:
- He would prioritise work over home life.
- His treatment lacked love and affection.
- He was moody and argumentative.
- He disparaged her in front of others.
- She felt unhappy, unappreciated, upset and often embarrassed.
Mr Owens denied the allegations, suggesting that the reason she had petitioned for the divorce was that his wife wanted to carry on with an affair that she was having at the time and that the man with whom she was having the affair was adversely influencing her. He said that he and his wife had learned to ‘rub along’. Defended divorces are actually very rare, and in 2016, of the 114,000 divorce petitions raised, only 800 were defended. Surprisingly the Owens’ divorce was denied.
Mrs Owens appealed, but the Court of Appeal also denied the divorce. She was allowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. The appeal was heard in May this year.
Today, the Supreme Court has also denied the divorce, although reluctantly, with judges saying that they can do nothing but apply current law, even though they are uneasy with the decision. President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, said that, whilst it is for Parliament to change the law, and not courts, she found the case troubling. She was critical of the original trial for not being ‘set up or conducted in a way which would enable the full flavour of his (Mr Owens’) conduct to be properly evaluated’.
Family law organisation, Resolution, which intervened in the case, is now calling upon the government to reform family law in England and Wales. Nigel Shepherd, past chair and a campaigner for no-fault divorce, said that the Supreme Court’s action ‘confirms there is now a divorce crisis in England and Wales, and the government needs to take urgent action to address it’.
Don Bird, head of family law at Atherton Godfrey says “Today’s result is extremely disappointing and means that thousands of divorcing couples will continue to have to attach blame to their divorce petitions, even when it is not necessarily fair to blame one party or the other, as they see it as the quickest way of getting out of an unhappy marriage. I hope that today’s ruling proves to be the catalyst that we need to move toward reforming family law, bringing it up to date and introducing a way of divorcing without attaching blame.”