The United Kingdom’s highest court has ruled that a woman cannot be granted a divorce from her husband on the ground of her being “unhappy.”
Tini Owens, 68, from the English county of Worcestershire, was seeking a divorce from her husband of 40 years, Hugh. However, Mr. Owens objected to the split. In a ruling which has thrust the UK’s current divorce laws into the media spotlight, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the wife’s appeal to divorce her husband, meaning she must remain married until 2020.
British law requires a set of specific criteria to be met before formal divorce proceedings can be embarked upon.
When applying for a divorce, a married couple must prove that their marriage has broken down irreconcilably.
Legitimate reasons for a divorce must include:
- Unreasonable behavior
- You have lived apart for more than two years and both agree to the divorce
- You have lived apart for at least five years, even if your husband or wife disagrees
According to the BBC, Mrs. Owens’ solicitor said she her client was “devastated” by the decision and “cannot move forward with her life.”
Supreme Court judge Lord Wilson said the case had been dismissed “with reluctance” and urged the British Parliament to debate the issues that had been raised around divorce requirements.
Tini had previously argued that her husband had behaved in such a way that she could “not reasonably be expected to live with him.” But that was not enough for the courts to grant a divorce. Barrister Hamish Dunlop, who was representing Mr. Owens, argued that the Supreme Court justices had ruled correctly. Dunlop said Mrs. Owens “was essentially advocating divorce by unilateral demand of the petitioner,” which is not lawful.
On the other hand, Simon Beccle, urged the court to be more “forward-thinking and fit with the current social mores.”
He noted that his client is now unable to “obtain her independence from Mr. Owens.”
Supreme Court president Lady Hale explained her displeasure at the ruling, but clarified that it is not the job of the Supreme Court to “change the law.”
“I have found this case very troubling,” she said, before adding that “it is not for us to change the law laid down by parliament.”
Hale concluded: “Our role is only to interpret and apply the law.”
Another of the supreme court judges said that they had “no enthusiasm whatsoever” in declining the request for a divorce, but said that it was up to Parliament as to whether or not they choose to introduce a “no-fault” divorce on demand.
The original judge to rule on the case said that while it was clear the marriage had broken down, Mrs. Owen’s claims were “flimsy and exaggerated.”
Throughout the case, Hugh has insisted that if their marriage has irretrievably broken down, it is because she had an affair, or because she is “bored,” according to the Guardian.
The case has sparked nationwide debate over whether divorce laws should be altered in England and Wales.
“England and Wales currently lag far behind other countries with their divorce laws and there is a strong mood for reform, which includes the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorces,” said specialist lawyer Caroline Elliott.
British journalist Kate Leaver also objected to the ruling, writing in the Independent that it was “sinister and profoundly inappropriate for a legal system to order a woman stay in a relationship that is irrevocably broken.”
She added that the case is “yet another example of our legal system wilfully denying a woman’s agency, endangering her and undermining her right to choose who she is legally bound to by marriage.”
In contrast to the laws of England and Wales, every state in the US possesses a “no-fault divorce” – the courts are not concerned with which spouse was guilty of marital misconduct.
While the specifics vary on a state-to-state basis, there are four common prerequisites for divorce in the United States.
According to LegalZoom, these are:
- Residency: The spouse filing for divorce must have resided in the state and county for a certain period. Six months is a common state requirement, and three months is typical at the county level.
- Waiting Period: Most states have a mandatory waiting period from the filing to the finalization of a divorce. In other words, you cannot file and finalize a divorce on the same day. The average waiting period is 6 months but can be anywhere from 0 to 12 months. After the waiting period, the divorce is finalized and both parties are free to remarry.
- Legal Grounds: States generally recognize two legal grounds for divorce: (1) irreconcilable differences and (2) separation. “Irreconcilable differences” simply means there are marital difficulties that cannot be reconciled and have led to the permanent breakdown of the marriage.
- Jurisdictional Requirement: An action for divorce must be filed with the proper court. The appropriate court is typically in the county where either the wife or husband has resided for at least 3-6 months prior to filing for divorce.
As for Mrs. Owens, she will have to stay married to her husband of 40 years for at least another couple before she is eligible for a permanent split.