The fundamentals of divorce legislation have not been subject to reform for almost 50 years. Now, following the Supreme Court decision of Owens v Owens, it has been announced that the justice secretary David Gauke is expected to launch a public debate to modernise the existing legislation. Currently under UK divorce law, one of the parties must apportion blame upon the other in order to file a divorce petition unless they have been separated for over 5 years. Parties can divorce after they have been separated for two years but only if they both consent. This has meant that Tini Owens will have to wait until 2020 to escape from her loveless marriage where, aside from every day frictions, she and her husband had simply grown apart.
In circumstances where coercive and controlling behaviour is now recognised as a criminal offence, it is quite wrong that a person can force their spouse to stay married to them, no matter how unhappy they are and that the government endorses that behaviour. For victims of domestic violence, having to detail the abuse they have experienced in a divorce petition is likely to put them at risk of further abuse.
It is hoped that the government consultation will recommend for a ‘no-fault divorce’ to be implemented into the existing legislation. It is thought by many practitioners that being able to initiate a divorce based on anodyne grounds will achieve better results all round, particularly when it comes to diminishing acrimony between the parties; the key aim of any divorce lawyer. The full background and decision of the Owens case can be explored here.