The divorce case of Owens v Owens, which recently reached the Court of Appeal, received great media coverage which has increased calls for a reform of divorce law.
The case concerned Mrs Tini Owens who applied for a divorce on the basis that her husband’s unreasonable behaviour had caused the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage. Her husband did not agree that the marriage had broken down and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the first instance Judge that Mrs Owens had failed to show that she could not reasonably be expected to live with her husband, as a result of his behaviour.
Currently, if a married couple make the decision to separate, they must wait for two years from the date of their separation, provided that they both agree to the divorce, before they can obtain a divorce without having to attribute blame for the breakdown of their marriage. If the couple do not wish to wait for two years, they can only proceed with a divorce by one spouse “blaming” the other for committing adultery or for having behaved unreasonably during the marriage.
In most cases where couples do not wish to wait for two years to divorce, they agree the contents of an adultery or unreasonable behaviour divorce petition before it is sent to the Court. As the law currently stands, this is the most amicable way for couples to divorce without delay, but this can be cumbersome and artificial.
However, if one spouse does not agree to a divorce at all, the other spouse must wait for five years from the date of separation before they can obtain a divorce without the consent of their spouse. Unless Mr Owens will agree to a divorce after two years, (which seems unlikely), Mrs Owens will now have to wait for five years from the date of the separation before she can obtain a divorce.
The Judgement of the Court of Appeal in Owens v Owens has prompted an even greater outcry for a reform of the law in this area, which dates back to 1973.