Stuck in an unhappy marriage

The Supreme Court ruled last week in the unhappy case of Mr and Mrs Owen. They were married in 1978 and have two adult children however Mrs Owens states she had been unhappy in the marriage since 2012. She finally decided to leave in 2015 and began divorce proceedings on the only basis available to her, namely that Mr Owen’s had behaved unreasonably towards her and therefore she could not be expected to live with him. This is the most common ground for divorce as unless adultery applies, it is currently the only basis upon which a couple can divorce without waiting for two or more years from the date upon which they separated.

Mrs Owen’s presumably kept the allegations of behaviour in her petition quite mild in order to try and reduce the animosity with her husband. However he contested the divorce, saying that the marriage broke down because she was bored and not because he behaved unreasonably.  All of the judges who considered this case accepted that the marriage had clearly broken down however they found that Mrs Owen’s allegations against Mr Owens were ‘flimsy and exaggerated’. Consequently she did not sufficiently prove that Mr Owen’s had behaved unreasonably towards her and is not entitled to a divorce. The judges expressed regret at their decision but made it clear their role was to interpret and apply the law as it currently stands and that being in a “wretchedly unhappy marriage” was not in itself grounds for divorce.

The implications for Mrs Owens are huge. Mr Owens will not agree to a divorce so she will need to remain married to him and cannot start divorce proceedings until 2020, five years after they separated. She cannot move forward with her life or resolve the financial settlement with Mr Owens.  

This case has led to renewed calls for the introduction of no fault divorce as exists in Scotland, Australia and the United States. New laws allowing for no fault divorce have been proposed in the past but there is no political appetite for reform at present and the law is unlikely to be changed in the near future.

This case shows that even though divorce is now commonplace, dealing with the process can be complicated. Getting the right advice at the outset is important. At George Green we help our clients to divorce quickly and with the least amount of animosity possible.

For further information or for a free initial telephone consultation please contact Rachel Baker in our Cradley Heath office on 01384 384580 or by email to or Alex Mansfield in our Wolverhampton office on 01902 328365 or by email to