English court rules woman must stay in 'loveless' marriage

2018-07-26 06:23


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Lawyers called for urgent reform of England's divorce laws on Wednesday after the Supreme Court ruled a woman must remain in a "loveless" marriage despite it having effectively ended.

Tini Owens, 68, filed for divorce from her husband Hugh Owens, 80, in May 2015 after moving out of their shared home.

A wealthy couple, they had been married since 1978 and have two grown-up children.

She claimed it had become a "loveless" marriage and accused him of authoritarian and demeaning behaviour, to the point that she could not reasonably be expected to stay with him.

He denied the claims and suggested she wanted a divorce because she had an affair, or was bored.

A lower court ruled that the marriage had broken down, but dismissed as "flimsy" the examples Mrs Owens used of her husband's conduct, which would have allowed her to use the "unreasonable" behaviour test for divorce.

Supreme Court Judge Nicholas Wilson said the case raised "uneasy feelings" but upheld the decision to deny the divorce, which had already won support at the Court of Appeal.

"The appeal of Mrs Owens must be dismissed. She must remain married to Mr Owens for the time being," he said in a written ruling.

By 2020, five years will have elapsed since they began living apart putting an end to the marriage on the grounds of separation.

But the judge added: "Parliament may wish to consider whether to replace a law which denies to Mrs Owens any present entitlement to a divorce in the above circumstances."

Another judge, court president Brenda Hale, said it was a "very troubling case" and she had only "reluctantly" agreed to dismiss the appeal.

Mrs Owens' lawyer said she was "devastated by this decision, which means that she cannot move forward with her life".

Nigel Shepherd, from the family justice organisation Resolution, said there was now a "divorce crisis".

"It is outrageous that Mrs Owens - or anybody - is forced to remain trapped in a marriage, despite every judge involved in the case acknowledging it has come to an end in all but name," he said.

He added: "It should not be for any husband or wife to 'prove' blame as the law requires many to do - this is archaic, creates needless conflict, and has to change."

The law demands at least one of five grounds to prove a marriage has broken down. Grounds include, separation, adultery, desertion, or if one person has behaved in such a way that their partner cannot be reasonably expected to live with them.

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