Woman ‘devastated’ as court rules she must stay in ‘unhappy’ 40-year marriage

A woman who wants to divorce her husband of 40 years because she says their marriage has broken down is “devastated” after losing a Supreme Court fight, a lawyer has said.

Five Supreme Court justices have ruled that Tini Owens must stay married to Hugh Owens (pictured).

One, Supreme Court president Lady Hale, said it was not for judges to “change the law”.

But Mrs Owens’ solicitor said many people would find the Supreme Court decision “hard to understand”.

Simon Beccle said Mrs Owens had hoped the Supreme Court justices would make a decision which would be “forward-thinking and fit with the current social mores”.

He added: “Mrs Owens is devastated by this decision, which means that she cannot move forward with her life and obtain her independence from Mr Owens.”

Specialist lawyers said Parliament should change the divorce law.

Mrs Owens, 68, wants a divorce because she says her marriage to Mr Owens, 80, 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”.

Two years ago a Family Court judge rejected Mrs Owens’ allegations and refused to grant her a divorce.

Judge Robin Tolson described her complaints about Mr Owens as “flimsy and exaggerated”.

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 hearing in London in May and delivered a ruling on Wednesday.

One, Lord Wilson, said the 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 Owens had already lost two rounds of the battle.

In 2016 she failed to persuade Judge Tolson 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 had 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.

A lawyer who represented Mr Owens said Supreme Court justices had rightly rejected Mrs Owens’ arguments.

Barrister Hamish Dunlop, head of 3PB Barristers Family Law Group, said: “The Supreme Court has rightly rejected Mrs Owens’ attempt radically to reinterpret the requirements for a behaviour divorce brought under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

“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.

“Those calling for a so-called ‘no-fault divorce’ regime may take comfort from Lord Wilson’s view that, in moving with the times, the law nowadays sets the bar for a grant of divorce based on behaviour at a low level.

“Nevertheless, the essential ingredients of this ground (or ‘fact’ under the Act) must still be proved. Mrs Owens failed to satisfy the trial judge that her husband had behaved in such a way as to entitle her to divorce him under the law as it currently stands.

“After extensive legal argument, neither the Court of Appeal nor the Supreme Court felt it appropriate to interfere with the trial judge’s decision.”

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