Smith Partnership has followed a seemingly normal divorce legal case ruling with interest when advising its clients, where a wife was refused a divorce simply on the basis of her petition of her husband’s alleged unreasonable behaviour.
High profile divorce cases are increasingly finding their way to the front pages of newspapers more than ever before, often involving celebrities or where the assets are of such a high level as to be of interest to the readers, however this case was far from it.
The Case: Owens versus Owens
Mrs Tini Owens was initially refused a divorce by a Court because the Judge felt that although the marriage had broken down, he did not find that she had proved the allegations in her unreasonable behaviour petition. She appealed that decision but the most senior of Family Judge in the land refused to interfere with the original Judge’s decision.
The parties have been married for 39 years and numerous allegations of unreasonable behaviour upon which to base a claim that the marriage had broken down irretrievably were cited. The Judge at first instance concluded that her allegations were “of the kind to be expected in marriage” of that length. The Court of Appeal believed that the Judge had correctly concluded that the marriage had not irretrievably broken down “in Law”.
So why was Mrs Owens petition not acceptable?
The particulars of unreasonable behaviour used by Mrs Owens were a very typical set that are often used. In the majority of cases a Respondent receiving such a Divorce Petition normally accepts the marriage has broken down irretrievably even if they do not admit all of the allegations.
Often a view is taken that if one party is so adamant the marriage has broken down irretrievably so as to pursue the matter as far as possible, then that marriage has indeed broken down. For Mr Owens to defend the case was exceptional.
Peter Dadswell, Divorce Lawyer at Smith Partnership said: “As Divorce Lawyers we are encouraged to try and reduce the heat in the situation. Unreasonable behaviour particulars just sufficient to convince the Court that the marriage has broken down but without causing acrimony are sought.
“It is probably fair that the case of Mrs Owens is most certainly the exception to the rule both in terms of a party being willing to defend the Petition all the way to the Court of Appeal but also in terms of a decision of the Court.
“Unreasonable behaviour particulars were generally considered highly subjective – it does not normally matter is the Respondent or even the Court considers the behaviour unreasonable, just enough that the Petitioner does.
“Divorce Lawyers might now have to try and “beef up” unreasonable petitions to try and reduce the chances of this (albeit extreme example) happening to them. In turn this may cause increased acrimony.”
In legal circles this ruling has added fuel to the fire of the campaign for reform to Divorce Laws so that there can be a “no fault” divorce. If such existed then the Court accepting that the marriage of the Owens had irretrievably broken down would have been sufficient. The burden of proving the allegations of behaviour would not have existed.
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