Divorce Denied

Can you lose a divorce case? An English woman who wants to divorce her husband of 40 years actually lost! The British Supreme Court ruled she must stay married because her husband refuses to divorce. How does the recent British case compare with a Florida divorce?

Divorce Denied


Five judges at Britain’s highest court unanimously upheld rulings by a family court and the court of appeal that Tini Owens, 68, cannot divorce, but must stay married to Hugh Owens, 80, despite her complaint that the marriage was loveless and had broken down.

“The appeal of Mrs. Owens must be dismissed. She must remain married to Mr. Owens for the time being,” the supreme court judge Lord Wilson said in the majority ruling. “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.”

Tini’s case has thrust Britain’s lack of provision for no-fault divorce into the spotlight. Even spouses mutually seeking to end a marriage must, unless they have been living apart, assign blame and make often damaging allegations that lawyers say inflame potentially amicable proceedings.

Florida No-Fault

I’ve written about no-fault divorce before. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce, one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery. This often-required additional expenses on behalf of the aggrieved party, only serving to make the divorce process more expensive and cumbersome than it already was.

In 1971, Florida passed its “no-fault” divorce law. The rationale behind no-fault laws was that requiring someone to prove legal grounds to dissolve the marriage was not serving any useful purpose.

In the years leading up to the enactment of “no-fault” divorce, courts often granted divorces on bases that were easier to prove, the most common being “mental cruelty.”

Over time, the “no-fault” movement expanded to other states, although interestingly it only reached the typically progressive state of New York in 2010.

Stiff Upper Lip

Back in Britain, Tini and Hugh Owens married in 1978. Tini first consulted solicitors about a divorce in 2012, but despite her having an affair the couple continued to live together until February 2015.

Tini asked for divorce because her husband prioritized work over home life, his lack love and affection, his moodiness, and they had grown apart. Her husband denied the allegations about his behavior, and still hoped his wife would change her mind and return to live with him.

The trial judge dismissed her divorce, ruling that her case was flimsy and exaggerated. The judge said that while Hugh was “somewhat old-school”, Tini was more sensitive than most wives.

She appealed, where it was again dismissed. The three appeal court judges said she had failed to establish, in the legal sense, that her marriage had irretrievably broken down, despite one saying she had reached her conclusion with “no enthusiasm whatsoever”.

The supreme court’s judgment on Wednesday morning was her last hope. They noted:

Tini would be able to divorce in 2020, when the couple will have been separated for five years and she will be eligible for a divorce without consent or evidence of fault.

In the U.K., keeping a stiff upper lip is an attribute of the British who stay resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity. Tini will just have to stick it out until 2020.

The Guardian article is here.