Call for law change as ‘trapped’ wife denied divorce

Owens divorce

Today's judgment that Tini Owens must remain married to her husband, Hugh, could well have a wider impact beyond the very sad situation she now finds herself in.

United Kingdom law now allows couples to end their marriage if one partner behaved "unreasonably" or committed adultery or after two years living apart if they both agree.

English divorce laws say a person cannot divorce without a spouse's consent, unless they can prove adultery, unreasonable behavior or desertion. If one partner objects, as Hugh did in this case, then the couple must live apart for five years before being granted a divorce.

Mrs Owens's solicitor Simon Beccle, a partner at London firm Payne Hicks Beach, said his client is "devastated" by today's decision "which means that she can not move forward with her life and obtain her independence from Mr Owens".

One judge, Lord Wilson, said the decision had been reached "with reluctance" and Parliament needed to decide if divorce laws should be reformed.

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.

A cooling-off period is seen as a countermechanism against recklessness and impulsiveness among some irresponsible couples, she said.

Mrs Owens' solicitor said she was "devastated" by the decision and "cannot move forward with her life".

But the UK's Supreme Court has dealt her a harsh blow, unanimously ruling that just because she's unhappy in the union doesn't mean she can end it, the Guardian reports.

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She said that her husband, whom she married in 1978, had behaved in such a way that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him. She describes such petitions as being "conduct-based" rather than "fault-based", the terms "unreasonable behaviour" being misleading (as Mrs Owens had initially pointed out, this term does not appear in the legislation). Politicians can no longer justify inaction on their part and must introduce no-fault divorce without delay.

She said he had behaved unreasonably and said she should not reasonably be expected to stay married.

Caroline Elliott of law firm Shakespeare Martineau said: "England and Wales lag far behind other countries with their divorce laws".

The case has sparked a debate about whether divorce laws in England and Wales need to change. Even spouses mutually seeking to end a marriage must, unless they have been living apart, assign blame and make often damaging allegations that lawyers say inflame potentially amicable proceedings.

But the Supreme Court refused to grant a divorce to the 68-year-old, saying they are not able to "change the law".

Lady Hale, in particular, felt that those case-management decisions, in which both parties and the judge had been involved, amounted to "mistakes".

Hugh Owens refuses to divorce his unhappy wife, Tini.

"In bringing her appeal, she was essentially advocating divorce by unilateral demand of the petitioner; ignoring the court's duty to have some objective regard to the respondent's behaviour".

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