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Mrs Owens takes divorce refusal to Supreme Court

Petitioner’s silk hopes justices find workable solution that reflects modern thinking

24 April 2017

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Tini Owens has filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking to appeal a ruling that left her ‘trapped in a loveless marriage’.

Last month, Mrs Owens was refused a divorce from her husband by the Court of Appeal after failing to prove he had behaved in a manner that would render her living with him unreasonable in accordance with the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

The president of the family division, Sir James Munby, sitting with Lady Justices Hallett and Macur, found that the judge at first instance, Judge Robin Tolson QC, had correctly applied the law. However, judges expressed their concern with the current law and absence of ‘no-fault’ divorce.

Specifically, Munby P questioned whether parties should be able to dissolve a marriage without state intervention and said that the current procedures were ‘based on hypocrisy and lack of intellectual honesty’.

Philip Marshall QC of 1KBW, for Mrs Owens, had argued that it was ‘extremely unusual’ for a court to dismiss a divorce petition and will now bring the case before the UK’s highest court.

‘The case of Owens brings into sharp focus whether the law of fault based divorce is still fit for purpose in the 21st century,’ he told Solicitors Journal. ‘I suspect many ordinary people will have been surprised to learn that anyone who finds themselves trapped in a loveless and desperately unhappy marriage is not able to obtain a divorce unless they are able to prove the other party is at fault (or they are prepared to wait five years).’

Marshall, who is chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, added: ‘The Court of Appeal has acknowledged openly that the law is currently being applied in a hypocritical and intellectually dishonest way. In effect, parties are allowed to collude to obtain a divorce by consent, and the court turns a blind eye to what is going on. That is highly unsatisfactory, not least for Tini Owens who currently has to wait another three years before she can obtain a divorce.

‘Hopefully her appeal will allow the Supreme Court to review the old case law and find a workable solution which is both intellectually honest and better reflects modern thinking and social attitudes.’

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal

matthew.rogers@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @lex_progress

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