Thursday, 26 July 2018

Time to change the divorce law

A Shropshire lawyer has warned divorcing couples that they must prepare their petitions carefully after a landmark ruling by the supreme court.

Gemma Himsworth leads the family law team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford, and her warning follows the high profile divorce case where a wife must now stay married to her husband until 2020 at the earliest.

“The wife wanted to divorce her husband after 40 years of marriage, but the supreme court decided to rule against her. She will now face the prospect of staying married to her husband until 2020 at the earliest because the husband won’t consent to the divorce, and the court decided she hadn’t been able to prove his unreasonable behaviour.

“This is a shocking case, and one that most people will be surprised by, but it’s a clear demonstration that couples must draft their divorce petitions carefully and pay great attention to the smallest of details.”

Mrs Himsworth said five judges had upheld the rulings of a family court and the court of appeal that Tini Owens must stay married to Hugh Owens. Tini says her marriage to Hugh, who is in his 80s, is loveless and broken down. She said he had behaved unreasonably and that she should be allowed to end her marriage.

Her husband though has refused to agree to a divorce and denies her allegations about his behaviour, saying if their marriage had irretrievably broken down it was because she had an affair, or because she was “bored”.

“Some of the judges on the panel said they were troubled by the case and the decision they had made, but that it was not for judges to change the law,” said Mrs Himsworth. “The court said that Mrs Owens would be able to divorce in 2020, when the couple will have been separated for five years. But clearly this case is an indicator that the law needs to change as divorce laws in England and Wales date back almost 50 years.

“Surveys have shown that couples are being forced into uncomfortable courtroom battles to establish who caused the relationship breakdown. There is no option for couples to opt for a no-fault divorce, and this is leading to unnecessary and unsuccessful court action like the Owens case which can be painful for everyone involved.”

Mrs Himsworth is a member of Resolution, the national family lawyers’ association, which has recognised the need for a change in the law for many years and whose members have long campaigned for the law to be updated.

“It’s not right that couples should feel cornered and pressured into defending themselves in a divorce fearing they will get a worse result when it comes to their children or money. Now is the time to stop blaming each other and work together for a more peaceful resolution.”