A woman who wants to divorce her husband of 40 years because she says their marriage is unhappy has lost a Supreme Court fight. Five Supreme Court justices have ruled that Tini Owens must stay married to Hugh Owens. The justices upheld rulings by a Family Court judge and Court of Appeal judges.
Mrs Owens, who is in her late 60s, wants a divorce and says her marriage to Mr Owens, who is in his 80s, is loveless and has broken down. She says he has behaved unreasonably and that she should not reasonably be expected to stay married. But Mr Owens refuses to agree to a divorce and denies Mrs Owens’ allegations about his behaviour. He says if their marriage has irretrievably broken down it is because she had an affair, or because she is ‘bored’. Mr and Mrs Owens married in 1978 and lived in Broadway, Worcestershire, judges have heard. Mrs Owens petitioned for divorce in 2015 after moving out.
Supreme Court justices analysed rival legal arguments, which revolved around concepts of ‘unreasonable’ behaviour and ‘fault’, at a Supreme Court hearing in London in May and delivered a ruling on Wednesday. One, Lord Wilson, said justices had ruled against Mrs Owens ‘with reluctance’. He said the ‘question for Parliament’ was whether the law governing ‘entitlement to divorce’ remained ‘satisfactory’. Lord Wilson indicated that Mrs Owens would be able to divorce in 2020, when the couple have been separated for five years.
Mrs Owen’s husband says she is ‘bored’ rather than because of any legal grounds
Another, Supreme Court president Lady Hale, said she found the case ‘very troubling’. But she said it was not for judges to ‘change the law’.
Mrs Owens had already lost two rounds of the battle. In 2016 she failed to persuade a Family Court judge to allow her to divorce. Last year three appeal judges ruled against her after a Court of Appeal hearing in London. They said Mrs Owens had failed to establish that her marriage had, legally, irretrievably broken down and dismissed her challenge to a ruling by Judge Robin Tolson. One appeal judge said she reached her conclusion with ‘no enthusiasm whatsoever’ but that Parliament would have to decide whether to introduce ‘no fault’ divorce on demand. Another said Parliament had ‘decreed’ that being in a ‘wretchedly unhappy marriage’ was not a ground for divorce. Mrs Owens’ lawyers say she should not have to prove that Mr Owens’ behaviour has been ‘unreasonable’ – only that she should not ‘reasonably be expected’ to remain with him. They say the case is about ‘proper interpretation’ of legislation.
Barrister Philip Marshall QC, who leads Mrs Owens’ legal team, told Supreme Court justices that a ‘modest shift’ of focus in interpretation of legislation was required. But barrister Nigel Dyer QC, who leads Mr Owens’ legal team, disagreed and raised concern about the introduction of divorce on ‘demand’.