Britains top family judge attacks hypocrisy of law that forces unhappy partners

first_imgUnder a law which has remained unchanged since 1969 couples must cite either adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion as the reason for their split, unless they have lived apart for more than two years.  Britain’s most senior family judge has attacked laws which force unhappy partners seeking a divorce to prove that their husband or wife has behaved unreasonablyIn a scathing judgment Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division of the High Court, said that divorce law was based on “hypocrisy and lack of intellectual honesty” and that couples must engage in “consensual, collusive, manipulation” of the law.He added that because the law says a “wretchedly unhappy” marriage is not a good enough reason to grant a divorce, he has no choice but to force a woman to stay married against her will. Sir James ruled in the Court of Appeal that Tini Owens, 66, cannot get a divorce because her husband of almost 40 years, Hugh Owens, 78, will not admit that the marriage has broken down.Mrs Owens said her husband had acted unreasonably by snapping at her in public and in front of their housekeeper and once spending a pub dinner “with his head resting in his hands”.These are not sufficient grounds for divorce, meaning she must stay married even though the marriage is “loveless and desperately unhappy”, a panel of judges ruled.  But Mr Owens said her accounts were “exaggerated and inaccurate”, and that he had been quiet during the pub dinner because he was tired following “a day in the garden”. Judge Robin Tolson, in the family court, said last year that Mrs Owens was “more sensitive than most wives” and these had been “minor disputes” and not serious enough to warrant a divorce. In his judgment Sir James said: “The simple fact, to speak plainly, is that in this respect the law which the judges have to apply and the procedures which they have to follow are based on hypocrisy and lack of intellectual honesty.”Sir James said that Mrs Owens had no choice but to wait until February 2020 for a divorce, “assuming that she and her husband are still alive”, under laws which require couples to live apart for five years if one partner does not agree. Hugh Owens leaves the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where his wife, Tini Owens, who wants to divorce her husband of nearly 40 years is waiting to see whether she has won an "extraordinarily unusual" Valentine's Day court fight. Mrs Owens described several disputes which she said left her “embarrassed and upset”. They included an argument the pair had had in an airport in Mexico over a gift for their housekeeper. Mrs Owens alleged that her husband “lost his temper” when she bought a silver tortoise necklace instead of the gift that he had thought was suitable. Mr Owens had once spent a pub dinner sitting in silence and “often with his head resting in his hands and his eyes closed,” she added. On another occasion he had upbraided her in front of the housekeeper for failing to put cardboard into a skip correctly, she said.  His comments follow a campaign led by family lawyers for “no-fault” divorces, which would allow couples to split without having to cite the bad behaviour of one partner as the reason. Lady Justice Hallett said that she agreed with the ruling “with no enthusiasm whatsoever” and urged Mr Owens to reconsider. “I very much regret that our decision will leave the wife in a very unhappy situation,” she said.  Hugh Owens leaves the Royal Courts of Justice in LondonCredit:Dominic Lipinski/PA Lawyers said the ruling would lead to couples making more lurid allegations against each other in order to be sure of a divorce being granted. Jo Edwards, head of family law at law firm Forsters, said that almost two-thirds of divorce cases currently involved “fault”. She said: “There is a pressing, overdue need for government to look at reform of the law.”An attempt to introduce no-fault divorces as part of a 1996 law failed after it was described by the Government as “unworkable”, and was eventually repealed in 2014. Earlier this year justice minister Lord Keen of Elie told the House of Lords that the Government had “no current plans” to update divorce laws.  Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings.last_img

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