Last year, Tini Owens hit the headlines when the Supreme Court decreed that she had to remain married to a husband with whom she had been in a loveless marriage for many years. She had petitioned for divorce on the most common basis; namely unreasonable behaviour. The case brought national attention to poor Mrs Owens and her hapless husband, and I suspect they may have incurred huge legal fees as a result of being caught up in what became a ‘cause celebre’.

When the dust died down, the government announced it was to launch a consultation on whether to change the rules which govern how couples divorce currently. The idea of “no fault” divorce has been popular for many years amongst legal practitioners, and more particularly, their lay clients. Many schemes were proposed to introduce a system whereby the only basis for divorce would be a statement that the marriage had irretrievably broken down. That is what one has to do at the moment anyway, but currently lawyers have to go on to say how the marriage has irretrievably broken down, by reference to one of five what we call “facts”. The fact that Tini Owens used was “unreasonable behaviour”. This is to all intents and purposes, an apportionment of blame. The government and many other organisations are keen to remove the element of blame. However, in doing so, this also removes any obstacle to a couple getting divorced, pretty much at the drop of a hat.

This point has always been a stumbling block to getting a change in the law. If divorce is as easy as filling in a form online, paying a Court fee and waiting for a Decree Absolute to arrive in the inbox, will not the stability of family life crumble?

The consultation has now concluded. The Justice Secretary has confirmed that legislation will be brought in to introduce no fault divorce in the next session of Parliament. However, this has not been universally accepted as a good thing. Religious groups are concerned that divorce will be too easy. If in the next session of Parliament there is time for this legislation to be introduced, undoubtedly there are going to be some checks and balances so obtaining a divorce is not made as easy as buying a loaf of bread over the counter. Will there be a cooling off period for example? Will some other obstacle be put up to ensure that couples really do think once, twice, or even thrice, before untying the knot? We have been down this road before, in 1996. At the 11th hour, no fault divorce was not introduced. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we will tread the same path again, but I suspect this time it is more likely than not that some form of new system will be introduced. When the strings attached to our current system are cut, it will remain to be seen what new strings will be attached in their place and how easy they are to untie.

For now, things continue as they have since 1973, and poor Mrs Owens remains locked in a relationship that is no longer what she wants. Something does indeed need to change.

If you have questions about this, or any other family issue, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Elizabeth Hodder or by calling 01284 763333.

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