THE LEGAL CASE THAT COULD RADICALLY CHANGE MARRIAGE IN BRITAIN
On their wedding day couples promise ‘till death us do part’. But pressure is growing to allow quick ‘no fault’ divorces, which would completely undermine marriage as a lifelong covenant.
Last month permission was granted for an appeal to the Supreme Court in the case of Owens v Owens. Lawyers are using this divorce case to argue that the existing law on divorce must be radically rewritten.
The new President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale, has for many years called for the introduction of no-fault divorce. The outcome of the case could prove vital to the future nature of marriage in this country.
Protecting innocent spouses
In English law divorces can only be granted in certain specific circumstances: adultery, desertion, two years of separation with consent or five years without consent, unreasonable behaviour.
When applying for a divorce, the petitioner must cite one of the reasons above and, if their spouse opposes the application, substantiate the claim in court.
This system is an important one. It protects innocent spouses from having their marriages suddenly terminated against their will. It upholds the status of marriage as a lifelong commitment and not a commercial contract to be broken at a moment’s notice.
The law must not create a conveyor belt to divorce. Each year many people reconcile while going through the divorce process – on average over 10,000 divorces are dropped every year in England and Wales. If the system did not treat divorce so seriously many marriages would be irretrievably lost.
But an influential collection of divorce lawyers is now urging the Government to liberalise divorce law to allow marriages to be ended quickly without fault, and without the consent of one spouse.
It should be no surprise, they need the work now that the divorce rate is at its lowest level for 45 years!
This change would mean that any husband or wife might one day find themselves ordered to leave their spouse and their home by a court, see their marital assets divided and the custody of their children determined, all against their will.
Owens v Owens
The case of Owens v Owens will potentially act as a lightning rod for the no-fault divorce movement.
Mrs Owens, who left the marital home in February 2015, wants her 39-year marriage to Mr Owens to be dissolved on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour. Mr Owens has contested the petition.
Successive courts have ruled that Mrs Owens has not shown that her husband has behaved unreasonably. Examples given to date include a disagreement about a gift for their housekeeper, and being silent at a pub meal.
However, while judges have so far upheld the law they have used their commentary on the case to push Parliament to introduce no-fault divorce.
If the Supreme Court justices do likewise then we are likely to see great pressure on the Government to do so.
The date of the Supreme Court hearing has yet to be released but the Coalition for Marriage will speak out strongly against this drive to deprive married couples of the security and protection the law currently gives them and we will be keeping our supporters updated as we do so.
This is an extract from one of the Coalition for Marriage’s regular communications with its supporters. If you would like to register as a marriage supporter and receive these updates, you may do so here.
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