The Judgment in the case of Tina Owens v Hugh Owens has now been handed down by the Court of Appeal today (24th March 2017).
To the layperson, the outcome of this case may be a surprise. Mrs Owens who petitioned for divorce against her husband based upon his unreasonable behaviour, was told by the family Court Judge that she had insufficiently proved the contents of her Petition, namely the allegations of unreasonable behaviour against Mr Owens. The allegations were said to be ‘trivial’ and lacked ‘beef’.
From a legal perspective, there is likely to be a mixed reception, some will understand that the Judge applied the law to the facts of the case while others will be astonished that in this day and age the Judge did not grant Mrs Owens her divorce.
The decision by the Court of Appeal was based on an appeal by Mrs Owens from the decision of the Family Court Judge but to be successful on that appeal the Court had to be satisfied that the Judge was plainly wrong. In its detailed Judgment, the Court of Appeal could not say that he was plainly wrong but offered some comfort to Mrs Owens that if she wanted to get divorced, then she could wait until 2020 when she would then be separated for five years from Mr Owens. I for one, found the decision by the Judge to be unusual as on a day-to-day basis when you deal with divorce proceedings you understand what allegations are required and how much detail needs to go in them to be able to ensure that the Divorce Petition is granted by the Court. I suspect this Judgment will be a good opportunity now for Respondents in divorce petitions to defend themselves if they have a real desire to remain married to their spouses. Accordingly, it is important that you do seek the correct legal advice to ensure that the allegations of unreasonable behaviour are sufficient enough to pass the objective and subjective test adopted by the Court.
There is only a small percentage of Divorce Petitions that are defended and end up in a full-blown trial. The vast majority proceed undefended (uncontested) as most married couples tend to accept that their marriage has irretrievably broken down and whilst they may not ultimately agree entirely with the allegations that are raised in an unreasonable behaviour petition, the Respondents of those Petitions tend to allow the divorce to proceed.
Many Petitions do lack ‘beefed’ up allegations but there is often a reason for that. Most Petitions do not contain war and peace as they sensibly proceed as amicably as you can on an unreasonable behaviour petition to avoid acrimony later. Not only does this often avoid contests in relation to children and financial issues it assists the parties in moving on with their lives once the legal aspects of the separation are resolved.
Many laypeople and those in the legal profession will undoubtedly scratch their heads in relation to this Judgment but when all is said and done it is the law that needs to change to a no-fault divorce system.
Anthony Jones is Head of Family Law and is a Resolution Accredited Specialist. For more information or a second opinion, please contact him on 0161 641 4555 or email email@example.com