The government faces renewed pressure to reform ‘outdated’ family law as a result of a widely awaited decision relating to a high-profile divorce case currently being heard in the Supreme Court.
The UK’s highest Court is hearing Owens v Owens after the Court of Appeal ruled that it could not interfere with a lower court’s decision to refuse to grant Tini Owens a Decree Nisi, even though the Judge had correctly found that the marriage had broken down.
Lady Hale, Supreme Court president, said that the case is a ‘rare example of the Court rejecting a behaviour petition on the ground that the husband’s behaviour was not objectively bad enough to make it unreasonable for the wife to live with him’.
Solicitor, Simon Beccle, a partner at London firm Payne Hicks Beach, is representing Tini Owens and is reported as saying that the appeal is not about the Supreme Court changing the law nor is it about the concept of ‘no-fault-divorce’.
He went on to say ‘Rather, it concerns the proper interpretation and application of section 1(2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the statute that applies when one person wishes to divorce another in England and Wales. That legislation provides that a divorce may be granted on the sole ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Mrs Owens needs to satisfy the court that Mr Owens has behaved in such a way that she cannot reasonably be expected to live with him’.
At present, couples are unable to divorce without blaming the other party unless they have been separated for two years and both parties consent.
If consent is not given, a spouse has to wait five years. Family law group, Resolution, has called current legislation ‘outdated’ and ‘unfair’ and, indeed, divorcing couples often appear reluctant to give examples of their spouses, so called, ‘unreasonable behaviour’ particularly in circumstances where the parties have simply grown apart over time.
Hale is said to have permitted Resolution to intervene in the case ‘because they concentrated on the legal rather than the policy arguments. What the current law is and what the law ought to be are quite separate matters’.
Beccle is reported as saying that a successful outcome for his client ‘is likely to mean that there is less need for one party to cite detailed and often unpleasant particulars of how the other has behaved, with the focus being instead on the effect the behaviour has had on the party seeking a divorce, regardless of whether it is objectively bad or otherwise blameworthy’. His position also appears to be gaining widespread support.