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British court could change the way in which divorces are awarded

Difference between "unreasonable behaviour" and "reasonably expected" to stay

A woman who wants to divorce her husband of 40 years is preparing for a Supreme Court fight which her lawyers say could have implications for people in unhappy marriages.

Tini Owens' lawyers say she should not have to prove that the behaviour of husband Hugh Owens has been "unreasonable" - only that she should not "reasonably be expected" to remain with him.

Five Supreme Court justices are scheduled to analyse the case at a Supreme Court hearing in London on Thursday.

They are not expected to deliver a ruling until later in the year.

Mrs Owens, who is in her 60s and lived with her husband in Broadway, Worcestershire, has lost the first two rounds of her battle.

She failed to persuade a family court judge to allow her to divorce Mr Owens, a retired businessman who is in his 70s and does not want to divorce.

She then failed to persuade Court of Appeal judges to overturn that ruling.

"The hearing at the Supreme Court has been eagerly anticipated and attention has focused on the current law and the need for reform, but legislation will take a significant period of time to introduce and will not assist Tini Owens," said her solicitor Simon Beccle, based at law firm Payne Hicks Beach.

"However, this appeal is not about the Supreme Court changing the law, nor indeed is it about the concept of 'no-fault divorce'.

The statute does not in fact mention 'unreasonable behaviour

"Rather, it concerns the proper interpretation and application of Section 1(2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the statute that applies when one person wishes to divorce another in England and Wales.

"That legislation provides that a divorce may be granted on the sole ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

"Mrs Owens needs to satisfy the court that Mr Owens has behaved in such a way that she cannot reasonably be expected to live with him.

"The statute does not in fact mention 'unreasonable behaviour'.

"Mrs Owens' case is that the focus of the court should be on the effect Mr Owens' behaviour has had on her.

"She will argue that the statute is currently being misinterpreted by the courts requiring proof by the party seeking a divorce of the other's 'unreasonable behaviour' and an investigation of 'fault'.

"Mrs Owens' position is that this is not, in fact, necessary, nor what Parliament intended, and it is her case that she has amply demonstrated the effect of Mr Owens' behaviour on her, and that it is such that she should not reasonably be expected to remain living him, particularly in circumstances where they have been separated for over three years, and there is no prospect whatsoever that they will ever live together again.

It is likely to mean that there is less need for one party to cite detailed and often unpleasant particulars of how the other has behaved

"If this important case is successful in the Supreme Court, it is likely to mean that there is less need for one party to cite detailed and often unpleasant particulars of how the other has behaved, with the focus being instead on the effect the behaviour has had on the party seeking a divorce, regardless of whether it is objectively bad or otherwise blameworthy.

"Mrs Owens believes this will make it possible for divorce cases to start on a more dignified and less aggressive note, which is likely to carry through into discussions in relation to children and finances."

Three appeal judges - led by Sir James Munby, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales - analysed the case at a hearing in London on Valentine's Day last year.

They dismissed Mrs Owens' appeal against a ruling by Judge Robin Tolson.

Judges have heard that Mr and Mrs Owens married in 1978.

She petitioned for a divorce in 2015 after moving out of the family home.

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