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CEO Andrew Balfour examines the potential implications for divorce and separation in the UK

The recent ruling by the Court of Appeal in the case of Mrs Tini Owens has triggered calls for Parliament to introduce “no fault” divorce.

Mrs Owens had appealed a ruling which refused to grant her a divorce, judging that her marriage to her 78-year-old husband had not broken down irretrievably, despite her having an affair.

The Court of Appeal found that had no option but to abide by the original ruling, telling Mrs Owens: “Parliament has decreed that it is not a ground for divorce that you find yourself in a wretchedly unhappy marriage, though some people may say it should be”.

While acknowledging this may be of “little consolation to the wife”, the Appeal Court Judges suggested that Mrs Owens’s situation may not be totally without remedy under the present law, stating that “if she waits until February 2020, assuming that she and her husband are still alive, she will, seemingly, be able to petition in accordance with section 1(2)(e) of the Act” (i.e. as a result of Mr and Mrs Owens being separated for 5 years).

Commenting on the ruling, Andrew Balfour, CEO of Tavistock Relationships, said: "People may mistakenly assume that, in 2017, English law provides for "no fault divorce". The recent Court of Appeal judgment in Owens v Owens is a reminder that it does not, raising the question ‘How do we, as a society, look after the mental health and well-being of spouses and their children when marriages break down?’

“Looking at the ramifications of this judgement, the recent ruling is predicted to push more and more couples to cite more hostile behaviour to justify their divorce – when, both in their interests, and in the long-term interests of their children, such couples desperately need help to manage their conflict and distress, not to be pressured by our divorce law to amplify it. After all, research now conclusively shows us that exposure to poorly resolved, intense inter-parental conflict has very significant long-term implications for children’s outcomes – affecting their mental and physical health and academic attainment. 

“At Tavistock Relationships we have extensive evidence both from research and from offering many thousands of couples expert therapy and counselling, that for those who stay together they can have more fulfilled and happy relationships. If that is not possible, there are better ways to part than to the hostile airing of private matters in a published court judgement. Particularly where there are children, but also where there are not, people owe it to themselves to look after their own health when their relationships become difficult. That includes mental health as a real priority".