Owens v Owens: did any good come from Court of Appeal’s worrying divorce ruling?

Mark Reeves, 23rd August, 2021

The Court of Appeal’s extremely unusual ruling in Owens v Owens refused a ‘desperately unhappy’ wife a divorce from her husband.

Despite his alleged unreasonable behaviour, and Mrs Owens’s affair with another man, Mr Owens successfully argued his marriage of 39 years had not broken down irretrievably.

The allegations made by Mrs Owens were not any different to what we see in most divorce petitions based on ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

The main difference in this case is that Mr Owens sought to defend the divorce proceedings. The vast majority of divorce petitions are undefended.

As an example, I’ve dealt with just two fully defended divorces in over 20 years’ practice.

Even if a divorce is not opposed it still has to be approved by the Court.

The reality here is that, in my opinion, if Mr Owens had not defended the divorce then it would have been approved by the Court without any question or query.

The concern about this case was where this would lead us to next.

Some though that it may just be a blip and that everything would continue as before.

Others thought that it may lead to more respondents electing to defend the divorce proceedings. Which would put a greater strain on an already overloaded court system.

It may have meant petitioners presenting divorce petitions packed full of allegations, just to try make sure that it is successful. But that would have done little to preserve the dignity of the parties.

As a family lawyer, my approach in acting for a petitioner is to include what I believe will be sufficient detail to get a behaviour-based petition through the Court, without it turning into a witch hunt against the respondent.

If I’m acting for a respondent then I’m usually advising about the pitfalls of defending the divorce, such as cost, timescale and what I see as the reality of the situation. In other words, taking a pragmatic approach to the situation based on many years' of experience.

The case of Owens v Owens did, in fact, add some momentum to the argument for divorce reform and, in particular, no-fault divorce.

Following a consultation launched by the Government concerning reform of divorce law, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill gained the Royal Assent on 26 June 2020.

Read our article The New Divorce Law from 6th April 2022 which explains what the new law involves and what changes have been made for future divorce applications.

Need advice? We can help you

Please call Mark Reeves today on 01482 324252.

Or email Mark here.

You can find out more about our Family services here.

The content on our site is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content on our site.

Although we make reasonable efforts to update the information on our site, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content on our site is accurate, complete or up-to-date.

Click here to view our Terms of Use