Divorce is one of the most traumatic experiences of a person’s life and can even be compared to the bereavement faced when there is a death in the family. Not only will the legal proceedings take their toll financially on the family, but the emotional damage will also be felt by everyone involved.
It is easy to be concerned with the issue of money and finance when it comes to divorce and often people get swept away in trying to ensure they receive the share of the assets that they think they deserve. However, the real focus really should be the children involved and investing time into their well being and understanding of the situation will actually pay off more than anything else.
The law in question is the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which does not allow for “no fault” divorce in England or Wales despite overwhelming support for it among judges and marriage guidance counsellors and significant support in both main parties. Allowing no-fault divorce would bring the law into the 21st century and into line with Australia, Canada, Sweden and the United States. Even so, this is a reform the government has no plans to undertake. In light of the case of Owens v Owens, it should think again. There is a personal as well as a legal reason why Mrs Owens has been forced to beg the Court of Appeal for a divorce. Her husband could grant her one at any time, but he refuses to. Hugh Owens, 12 years her senior and a successful mushroom farmer, told the first judge to hear the case that he wanted to stay married in his old age “to enjoy 30-odd years of shared experiences”.
It is hard to fathom how either party could genuinely enjoy any aspect of a marriage from which one of them is trying to escape, but the judge’s verdict hinged on a bleaker question — whether Mrs Owen could establish that the marriage was irretrievably broken.
A case study – Mrs Owens
To this end her lawyers submitted 27 examples of allegedly unreasonable behaviour by Mr Owens. These included criticising her in front of their housekeeper, sitting in silence during a meal in a pub and engaging in a row in an airport shop in Mexico. Stripped of inflammatory language in accordance with court rules, none of these incidents appeared egregious. Together, Mrs Owens argued, they contributed to a “drip-drip effect of being berated and humiliated”. Judge Robin Tolson was not persuaded. Denying the divorce last year, he said that while Mr Owens was somewhat “old school”, these were minor rows that formed part of any marriage and that Mrs Owens was “more sensitive than most wives”.
It does not take a legal mind to note that these are not so much judgments as subjective opinions. Supporters of no-fault divorce argue that the only people in a position to say whether a marriage has broken down, or why, are those who are party to it. On the basis of substantial and growing research, they also say that not having to assign blame reduces the stress of divorce for children and adults without encouraging marriage break-down.
Mrs Owens is 66. She will appeal to the Supreme Court but under English law will be 70 before being eligible for a divorce without her husband’s consent. He says he has forgiven her for a brief affair and “moved on”. She says she is “locked in”. If her husband will not let her out, the courts should have that power. Since they do not, the law should be reformed. For now, to borrow from Dickens’s Mr Bumble, it looks an ass.
If you, or someone you know, is going through a divorce and needs some support there are many charities and organisations in place across the globe that can provide all sorts of advice. From how to help the kids cope with the situation to how to come to terms with it yourself it really is best to seek help and talk about how you are feeling.
If you would like more information on where to find help in your area, do feel free to get in touch with us via the contact page and we will try to put you in touch with a local advisory centre.