Woman trapped in loveless marriage after judges refuse divorce

You may have seen in the widely reported press the case of Mr and Mrs Owens where a wife was refused a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour. The case law is embodied within section 1(2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. This states “the court hearing a petition for divorce shall not hold the marriage to have broken down irretrievably unless the petitioner satisfies the court of one or more of the following facts… that the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent… it shall be the duty of the court to enquire, so far as it reasonably can, into the facts alleged by the petitioner and into any facts alleged by the respondent”.

For a long time (encouraged by Resolution the family law organisation) lawyers have endeavoured to keep the particulars set out in an unreasonable behaviour petition to a minimum. This is to reduce potential acrimony which can overflow into disputes regarding children and the division of the assets. However, this case may mean that in the future much more robust and possibly controversial particulars will have to be included in petitions. The outcome of this case may have been correct if the law was strictly applied, but the law needs to change and there is now a substantial lobby to press on for no fault divorce. It is very much to be hoped that local judges will not pay much heed to the decision of the Court of Appeal, given that they have been fairly lenient in the fact that they have passed as suitable for the pronouncement of a decree nisi.