Simon Walker, Associate Solicitor at Mogers Drewett
Figures obtained by Mogers Drewett show that couples in the South West are bucking a national trend, with an increase in the number of them seeking divorces. There was a 16 per cent rise in divorces in the first four months of 2018, when compared to 2017, according to South West Regional Divorce Centre figures. This equates to an extra 1,200 divorces across the region in the past year.
One particular case outside of the region has hit the headlines and raised questions around how easy it is to get divorced. The Supreme Court will rule on the case of Tini Owens – who is seeking a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour – on 17 May, but will this actually lead to a change in the law?
Let’s start by looking at the current state of play. Getting divorced is not as quick and simple as couples initially think. There is no such thing as a ‘quick’ divorce. The current process will enable a couple to achieve a divorce within three to six months, but the average divorce takes around a year, with parties delaying so they can sort out finances. This can be a stressful time for everyone involved, and when there are children to consider, it’s even more important to ensure that the process is as smooth and amicable as possible.
In 2017 there were 113,996 petitions for divorce across the UK. Of these, in 2,600 cases a notice to defend the marriage was given, however, only 670 answers were filled in response and fewer went to trial. The recent media attention surrounding Tini Owens, suggests that this was a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, who was attempting to divorce her husband on the grounds of his ‘unreasonable’ behaviour, but unable to do so. The court was of the view that her allegations of unreasonable behaviour lacked veracity. The result of the court’s distinction has led many to believe the law should be updated and a no-fault divorce should be introduced without the need for the parties to be separated for two years.
The need for a no-fault divorce has been debated for many years, with this case shining a light on how rigid our current system is. At one of the initial hearings in the Owens case, Sir James Munby explained that “Parliament has decreed that it is not a ground for divorce that you find yourself in a wretchedly unhappy marriage, though some people may think it should be.”
Tini Owens is appealing the latest ruling at the Supreme Court, but it is the belief of many, including myself, that the original ruling is likely to be upheld and there will be no change in the law. Unfortunately for Mrs Owens, this case is a good example of an exception rather than the rule. I predict that the courts will state that a change of the law is a matter for Parliament. If Parliament were to change the law to include a no-fault divorce, the result could be perceived to be a dilution of the principles of marriage – a union held in high regard by the government, and which some many will argue underpins our society.
For anyone seeking a divorce, it is essential to agree in writing between solicitors that the marriage has broken down before going to court. This helps ensure the divorce will not be defended, preventing considerable time and stress, and helping ensure the separation is amicable. The law of divorce can be complex, and for those considering this last resort it’s vital to be aware that your spouse can defend a petition for divorce, unless you’ve been living separately for more than two years by agreement, and five years without.
I wish Tini Owens and her husband all the best, but I fear that their impending date at the Supreme Court won’t change their situation.