Wife denied divorce by Court of Appeal

In a landmark judgment, a wife has been denied a divorce by the Court of Appeal.

After a 39-year marriage, Tini Owens applied for a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour.

In a highly unusual move, a High Court judge in the Oxford Family court, refused her application for a decree nisi, after her husband contested the petition.  Mr Owens claimed the marriage was not over.

Examples cited in the petition included Mrs Owens alleging she had been upset because her husband had made “stinging remarks” during a meal with a friend.  Mrs Owens had had a brief affair in 2012 and claimed her husband continually berated her over the relationship.  Mrs Owens also complained her husband criticised her in front of their housekeeper.

Judge Robin Tolson QC concluded the examples of the husband’s behaviour were ‘flimsy’ and would not have been unreasonable, although he did describe the husband’s attitude as being “old school”.

The case came before the Court of Appeal and Mrs Owens’ barrister told the court she was now a “locked in” wife.  “She cannot get divorced unless Mr Owens changes his mind and agrees.”

The Court of Appeal rejected the wife’s appeal, even though the court accepted the marriage had irretrievably broken down. Lady Justice Hallett said it was not for the court to introduce ‘no fault’ divorce on demand. It was for Parliament to change the law.

Many family lawyers believe this case demonstrates why the law should be changed to a no-fault divorce system. This judgment means Mrs Owens cannot get out of her marriage until February 2020 when she can reapply on the ground they have been separated 5 years.