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Strong reaction to the Supreme Court’s Judgment in Owens v Owens

Divorce law “Unfit for purpose” claims family lawyer

Family lawyers have been quick to criticise the current law of divorce and to call for the urgent need for reform following the Supreme Court judgment in Owens v Owens [2018] UKSC 41 

Nigel Shepherd, Resolution's past Chair commented:

"As an organisation who intervened in the case in support of Mrs Owens, we are disappointed at today's judgment and what it means for her."

"Whilst the Supreme Court has, reluctantly, applied the law correctly, the fact that they have done so confirms there is now a divorce crisis in England and Wales, and the government needs to take urgent action to address it.

"In this day and age, 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. Today's judgment underlines just how vital it is that government now urgently reforms the divorce law."

"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 judgment comes as Resolution revealed that, since the last unsuccessful attempt to introduce no fault divorce, in the 1996 Family Law Act, more than 1,720,000 people cited adultery or unreasonable behaviour in their divorce petition.

"Since 1996, over 1.7 million people have assigned blame in the divorce process. That's a huge number of people making allegations against their ex – many of whom didn't have to," said Mr Shepherd.

Outdated divorce process not fit for purpose

"A large number of those will have been parents, so one can only wonder what the long-term damage is to separating families across the country, needlessly caused by an outdated divorce process that is no longer fit for purpose."

Resolution has called on government, and politicians from all parties, to support legislation  proposed by Baroness Butler-Sloss, committing the Lord Chancellor to review the current law, and report findings back to Parliament.

Resolution's Chair, Margaret Heathcote, speaking about the Private Member's Bill, said:

"Conflict has been proven to have a negative effect on both divorcing couples and their children. Each day the government fails to act creates unnecessary conflict for hundreds more families at a time that is already extremely emotional and traumatising for them."

"Resolution members across the country know there is a better way for separating families. Ministers need to end the blame game and they need to end it now."

Hazel Wright partner at Hunters Solicitors comments:

"The prospect now is grim: to obtain a divorce parties will be forced to make vigorous allegations against each other which will entrench division which can help no one, least of all children. For years, family law practitioners and the Courts have agreed to interpret the legislation in such a way as to avoid its worst effects, but this is no longer possible. Only the Government can help by bringing forward legislation to change the law as quickly as possible, and this judgment will give impetus to the reforming efforts of Resolution and The Times amongst others. However, its eye is not on this ball at the moment, and we may have a long wait."

Alexandra Bishop, Associate in the Family & Divorce law team at Kingsley Napley, comments:

"The Supreme Court's decision in Owens v Owens has today highlighted the urgent need for reform of our divorce law. Unfortunately, the Justices' hands were tied over this case - they are there to interpret the law and not to change it. Mrs Owens will now need to wait until 2020 for her divorce relying on the ground of 5 years' separation and Parliament must now take swift action to change the law.  … family lawyers should not have to "beef up" particulars in divorce petitions in order to satisfy the statutory requirements to get divorces off the ground.  As it stands, our law requires a marriage to be irretrievably broken down and one party to be deemed 'at fault' before a divorce can be granted – this simply leads to unnecessary hostility and distress for both parties, and in particular any children involved. In tabling her recent Private Members Bill to change this, Baroness Butler-Sloss described the current law as 'unfit for purpose'. This has been highlighted in glorious technicolour today. It is, of course, extraordinary that Mrs Owens' situation exists in modern times. MPs from all parties need to support the Bill requiring a review of our divorce law for Mrs Owens and all other spouses in this country who don't want to wait years for a divorce if their spouse objects to the end of their marriage. The fight must continue to make sure that divorce law is apt for today's modern society."

National Family Mediation CEO, Jane Robey, said:

"The current laws fuel conflict and only serve to promote protracted litigation, costing families a fortune. This case is no exception and should go to the heart of the growing call for changes to these outdated laws."

For BBC News coverage click here

For the article Unhappy marriage not grounds for divorce, supreme court rules by Damien Gayle published in the Guardian click here