Tini Owens loses Supreme Court divorce fight

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A woman who wants to divorce her husband on the grounds she is unhappy has lost her Supreme Court appeal.

Tini Owens, 68, from Worcestershire, wanted the court to grant her a divorce from her husband of 40 years Hugh, who is refusing the split.

The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the appeal, meaning she must remain married until 2020.

Mrs Owens’ solicitor said she was “devastated” by the decision and “cannot move forward with her life”.

Under current UK law, unless people can prove their marriage has broken down due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without a spouse’s consent is to live apart for five years.

Lord Wilson said the case had been dismissed “with reluctance” and was a question for Parliament.

The couple were married in 1978 and have two adult children.

Mrs Owens said she had been contemplating a divorce since 2012, but did not leave the matrimonial home until February 2015.

She alleged the marriage had broken down irretrievably and Mr Owens had behaved in such a way that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him.

Mr Owens, 80, has refused to agree to a divorce and denied 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”.

Barrister Hamish Dunlop, who represented Mr Owens, said the Supreme Court justices had ruled correctly, saying Mrs Owens “was essentially advocating divorce by unilateral demand of the petitioner”.

‘Very troubling’

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

He added she “cannot obtain her independence from Mr Owens”.

Supreme Court president Lady Hale said she found the case “very troubling” but it was not for judges to “change the law”.

The original judge who heard the case found the marriage had broken down, but that Mrs Owens’ examples were “flimsy and exaggerated”.

The case has sparked a debate about whether divorce laws in England and Wales need to change.

Caroline Elliott, a specialist lawyer, said: “England and Wales currently lag far behind other countries with their divorce laws and there is a strong mood for reform, which includes the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorces.”

One Supreme Court judge said she 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.

Grounds for divorce in England and Wales:

When you apply for a divorce you must prove your marriage has broken down and give one of the following five reasons:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • You have lived apart for more than two years and both agree to the divorce
  • You have lived apart for at least five years, even if your husband or wife disagrees

Source: Gov.UK

Mrs Owens’ lawyers argued she should not have to prove Mr Owens’ behaviour has been “unreasonable”, only that she should not “reasonably be expected” to remain with him.

Her lawyers said a “modest shift” of focus in interpretation of legislation was required.

Nigel Dyer QC, who led Mr Owens’ legal team, disagreed and raised concerns about the introduction of divorce on “demand”.

Mrs Owens had already lost two rounds of the battle.

In 2016 she failed to persuade a family court judge to allow her to divorce and last year three appeal judges ruled against her after a Court of Appeal hearing.

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