“Unhappily married” woman loses Supreme Court fight for divorce

It was reported in our News Section in February 2018 that Mrs Owens had her case heard by the Court of Appeal on St Valentine’s Day.  The Court of Appeal agreed with the Judge at first instance and ruled that the grounds pleaded in her Divorce Petition were not sufficient to allow her to be divorced from Mr Owens.

Mr and Mrs Owens were married in 1978 and she had been contemplating a divorce since 2012.  She left the matrimonial home in February 2014 and the parties have not lived together since that date.

In May 2015 Mrs Owens issued a Divorce Petition which was the subject of the proceedings before the Supreme Court.  It was based on Section 1 (2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, and alleged that the marriage had broken down irretrievably and that Mr Owens had behaved in such a way that Mrs Owens could not reasonably be expected to live with him.  The Supreme Court noted that it had been drafted in anodyne terms but despite this Mr Owens defended the suit, arguing that the marriage had largely been successful.

When the matter came before the Court at first instance, the Judge allowed Mrs Owens to amend her Petition to expand on the allegations of Mr Owens’ behaviour.  She amended the Petition and included twenty seven individual examples of Mr Owens being argumentative, disparaging to her in front of others and moody.  However, at the one day Hearing her Counsel focused on only a few of these.

The Judge held that the marriage had broken down but that her twenty seven examples were flimsy and exaggerated.  Accordingly, the test under Section 1 (2)(b) was not met and her petition for divorce was dismissed.  Her appeal before the Court of Appeal was also dismissed.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed her appeal with the result that she must remain married to Mr Owens for the time being.  The Supreme Court highlighted that defended suits for divorce were exceedingly rare.  The majority of the Supreme Court panel invited Parliament to consider replacing a law which denied Mrs Owens a divorce in the present circumstances.  There will undoubtedly be a move to a no fault based divorce rather than having to wait for the statutory time limit to expire whereby the parties may be divorced by consent, having lived apart for in excess of two years or in excess of five years whereby the petitioning party does not require the consent of the responding party.

If you have any queries about the statutory grounds for divorce or would like to discuss the law governing divorce please do not hesitate to contact Enda Lavery of our office on 02890 329801.