Case: Owens v Owens
Nigel Shepherd and Nicola Rowlings represented Resolution, the largest family justice organisation, on a pro bono basis at the Supreme Court hearing of Owens v Owens (Resolution intervening). The case was a rare example of a defended divorce that centred on the correct interpretation of one of the most commonly used grounds for divorce – so-called “unreasonable behaviour”. It was also the first case about divorce itself (rather than the financial or child arrangements consequences) ever heard by the Supreme Court.
Resolution were the only third party given permission to intervene in the case. In doing so, the Supreme Court itself recognised the wide public importance that this crucial decision was going to have, whatever the outcome. Our client was able to provide the Supreme Court with information as to the practical problems the current interpretation of the law caused. In particular, Resolution highlighted how the phrase “unreasonable behaviour” risked judges wrongly feeling that they needed to find “bad behaviour” before being satisfied that a divorce based on behaviour could be granted. The Supreme Court agreed with Resolution and criticised use of the phrase. At the very least, this has led to a different emphasis in the way family lawyers explain to clients what "behaviour" means in the context of the divorce process and to the approach the courts take to the required evidence.
Although Mrs Owens was ultimately unsuccessful in challenging previous rulings that she had not sufficiently “made out” her grounds for divorce, the case has been the catalyst for long-term change. In late 2018, the Ministry of Justice announced a radical overhaul of current divorce laws to include “no fault” divorce - a move welcomed by lawyers who, for decades, have avidly campaigned for a change in the law.
A link to the judgment can be found here.