Tini Owens has been married to Hugh, 80, for the last 40 years. It’s not been a happy marriage – Tini Owens started contemplating a divorce in 2012, and eventually moved out of the marital home in 2015. However, when it came to actually going through with a divorce, her husband contested it, sending the case first to the High Court, then to the Court of Appeal. Yesterday, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict – the Owens’ must stay married.
According to Mrs Owens’ solicitor, she is “devastated” by the ruling and “cannot move forward with her life”. The 68-year-old woman had appealed for a divorce on the grounds of being unhappy, which allegedly came from to her husband constantly berating and criticising her for having an affair several years ago. In an earlier review of the case, a judge ruled the couple must stay together as this sort of conduct is minor and to be “expected in a marriage”, and called the millionaire husband “old school”. Meanwhile, Mr Owens denies the allegations and his solicitors have released a statement claiming he shouldn’t be “unfairly criticised for attempting to save his marriage”.
Earlier this month, a draft bill was introduced in the House Of Lords, which, if passed, would mean the government has to vote on whether to bring no-fault divorces into law – it would be the first reform to marriage laws in 50 years
Under current law, prospective divorcees can apply for a divorce for one or more of five reasons – adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, you have lived apart for more than two years and both agree to the divorce, or you have lived apart for at least five years, even if your husband or wife disagrees. The Owens’ have lived apart for two years, but, as Mr Owens does not want to divorce, the law does not allow for a straightforward divorce. As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Mrs Owens must now wait until 2020 – when she will have lived apart from her husband for five years – before she can apply for divorce again.
One supreme court justice, Lord Wilson, said the court made their decision with “reluctance” and for the case to go any further it would need to be discussed in parliament. Similarly, the court’s president, Lady Hale, has previously said the “troubling” case is an example of why current divorce laws need an overhaul that would bring them up to date. In a speech delivered to family-law campaigning group Resolution’s 30th national conference in April, Lady Hale presented a five-point reform plan to family law, including a call to introduce no-fault divorces. Earlier this month, a draft bill was introduced in the House Of Lords by Baroness Butler-Sloss, which, if passed, would mean the government has to vote on whether to bring no-fault divorces into law – it would be the first reform to marriage laws in 50 years.
Speaking to The Times, Resolution spokesperson and partner at law firm OGR Stock Denton, Graeme Fraser, said Tini Owens’ case “signifies the need for our divorce laws to be reformed so that fault does not have to be proved. Divorce without attributing blame minimises stress and conflict allowing couples to move on with their lives in a dignified and civilised way.”
Campaigners and experts such as Professor Liz Trinder of Exeter University, who conducted the “Finding Fault” research, which supports the change in law, are keen to pass the divorce reforms “sooner rather than later”, and are awaiting the announcement of a date for the second reading of Baroness Butler-Sloss’ bill.