Supreme Court rules woman ‘must stay married' as family law experts warn of ‘divorce crisis.'

News Release

25 Jul 2018

Supreme Court rules woman ‘must stay married’ as family law experts warn of ‘divorce crisis.’

  • Divorce denied by Supreme Court today forces Mrs Owens to remain married to Mr Owens against her will.
  • Call on politicians from all parties to back measures to reform outdated laws.
  • 1.7m people compelled to apportion blame in divorce since failed attempt to provide no-fault divorce option in 1996.

Resolution, the family justice body, has called on the Government to urgently reform divorce law in England and Wales, in the light of today’s Supreme Court judgment that Mrs Owens “must remain married to her husband for the time being”.

Supreme Court judges highlighted how troubling Mrs Owens’ appeal is, generating “uneasy feelings,” but made clear that their judgment was bound by the current legal framework. They also urged Parliament to consider changing the law.

Nigel Shepherd, Resolution’s past Chair and long-time campaigner for no fault divorce, echoed this call for law makers to take action:

“As an organisation who intervened in the case in support of Mrs Owens, we are disappointed at today’s judgment and what it means for her.

“Whilst the Supreme Court has, reluctantly, applied the law correctly, the fact that they have done so confirms there is now a divorce crisis in England and Wales, and the government needs to take urgent action to address it.

“In this day and age, it is outrageous that Mrs Owens – or anybody – is forced to remain trapped in a marriage, despite every judge involved in the case acknowledging it has come to an end in all but name. Today’s judgment underlines just how vital it is that government now urgently reforms the divorce law.

“It should not be for any husband or wife to ‘prove’ blame as the law requires many to do – this is archaic, creates needless conflict, and has to change.”

The judgment comes as Resolution revealed that, since the last unsuccessful attempt to introduce no fault divorce, in the 1996 Family Law Act, more than 1,720,000 people cited adultery or unreasonable behaviour in their divorce petition.

“Since 1996, over 1.7 million people have assigned blame in the divorce process. That’s a huge number of people making allegations against their ex – many of whom didn’t have to,” said Mr Shepherd.

“A large number of those will have been parents, so one can only wonder what the long-term damage is to separating families across the country, needlessly caused by an outdated divorce process that is no longer fit for purpose.”

Resolution has called on government, and politicians from all parties, to support legislation proposed by Baroness Butler-Sloss, committing the Lord Chancellor to review the current law, and report findings back to Parliament.

Speaking about the Private Member’s Bill, Resolution’s Chair, Margaret Heathcote, said:

“We hope this Bill will highlight the widespread support for divorce law reform and lead to change that is long overdue.

“Conflict has been proven to have a negative effect on both divorcing couples and their children. Each day the government fails to act creates unnecessary conflict for hundreds more families at a time that is already extremely emotional and traumatising for them.

“Resolution members across the country know there is a better way for separating families. Ministers need to end the blame game and they need to end it now.”



Lisa Dorstek, Communications Manager, 020 3841 0303

Matt Bryant, Communications Director, 07968 796808

Notes to editors

  1. Resolution is an organisation of 6,500 family justice professionals in England and Wales, who believe in a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters. More info:
  1. Background on Owens v Owens and Resolution’s intervention: Tini Owens (66) petitioned for divorce from her husband on the grounds that the 40-year marriage had broken down irretrievably. Unusually, the petition was defended by her husband Hugh (78) and the divorce was denied. Mrs Owens appealed the decision, firstly at the Court of Appeal, and most recently, on 17th May 2018, at the Supreme Court.
  1. The Supreme Court judgment is available at [LINK]
  1. Key excerpts from the judgment:

(Lord Wilson, Paragraphs 42-43) “There is no denying that the appeal of Mrs Owens generates uneasy feelings: an uneasy feeling that the procedure now conventionally adopted for the almost summary despatch of a defended suit for divorce was inapt for a case which was said to depend on a remorseless course of authoritarian conduct… But uneasy feelings are of no consequence in this court, nor indeed in any other appellate court.”

(Lord Wilson, Paragraph 45) “Parliament may wish to consider whether to replace a law which denies to Mrs Owens any present entitlement to a divorce in the above circumstances.”

(Lady Hale, Paragraph 46) “I have found this a very troubling case. It is not for us to change the law laid down by Parliament – our role is only to interpret and apply the law that Parliament has given us.”

  1. Between 1996-2016, there were 1,720,556 divorces granted which had either adultery or unreasonable behaviour as the facts proven. Full statistics available from the ONS.
  1. Key points on no fault divorce:
    1. 69% of the general population and 69% of Conservative voters believe couples should be able to divorce without having to show their spouse is at fault (YouGov).
    2. Implementing no fault divorce would bring the UK in line with other jurisdictions, including the US, Australia and Scotland.