Please release me: why the Tini Owens case is so unsettling

Butterfly behind window

Director Rita Gupta gives her insight into this long-running battle for a woman to divorce her husband.

Tini Owens has been married to her husband Hugh for 40 years. She describes it as a ‘loveless’ marriage, and wants a divorce. The children have grown up and long since left home, and the couple slept apart for years until Mrs Owens moved out in 2015. She says that their relationship has broken down and she wants to move on.

So what’s the problem?

Mr Owens (aged 80) will not agree to the divorce. Simple as that. As a result, Mrs Owens (aged 68) has been through three major court appeals. Finally this month, the Supreme Court ruled that she must stay married to her husband.

It’s not about the money

Unlike so many divorce cases, this one does not centre around money. In most divorce cases, both parties agree on the need for a divorce, but it’s usually the divorce settlement that causes the disputes. Given that Mr Owens is a millionaire mushroom farmer and the couple jointly own the business, and four “nice” properties in Worcestershire, you’d expect this to be the sticking point.

However, this case centres on existing legislation that requires a spouse to establish that a marriage has irretrievably broken down. It also requires that one spouse be at fault, or establishes a minimum period of separation. In law, ‘fault’ can include abusive or coercive behaviour, adultery, or other forms of bad behaviour.

Mr Owens does not agree that this has happened, insisting that Mrs Owens is simply “bored” and that that they still have a “few years” left in their marriage. His legal team’s statement said that:

“He did not accept that his behaviour during the marriage was such as to justify the ending of the marriage by divorce. At the outset he hoped that there could be a reconciliation with his wife.”

The Supreme Court says no

In July 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that, in law, Mrs Owens has no grounds for divorce. So, reluctantly as it turns out, they have to rule that she must remain married to Mr Owens. The judges clearly were not happy with this outcome, but needed to stick to the letter of the law. The UK’s most senior lady judge, Lady Hale, said:

“I have found this case very troubling. It is not for us to change the law laid down by Parliament - our role is only to interpret and apply the law.”


The case for no-fault divorce

At LGFL Ltd, we have long advocated a simple solution to this and so many other unnecessarily complex divorce cases - no fault divorce. Neither spouse would have to find or prove fault in order to be granted a divorce. It does seem bizarre that Mr Owens can restrict his wife’s life so such as degree by a simple refusal, yet this is not seen as coercive or controlling behavior. i.e. putting him at ‘fault’.

No-fault divorce legislation would allow divorce to be granted without the stress, hurt and anguish that having to prove ‘fault’ entails, or waiting a minimum period when parties simply want to move on. As Nigel Shepherd, former chair of Resolution said:

“Our current laws can often create unnecessary conflict in divorce – forcing couples to blame each other when there is no real need, other than a legal requirement, to do so.”

Instead, Mrs Owens could be finally free from her husband and live her life, rather than remaining shackled to his life.


Divorce on demand

No-fault divorce legislation would not, in our view, lead to the ‘divorce on demand’ scenario that some of the tabloids seem to think will bring society to its knees. Instead, no-fault divorce would offer a fair, civilised and considerate solution to an antiquated divorce system that is overdue for reform for our changing 21st century society.

LGFL Director Rita Gupta firmly believes that ‘sometimes things just don’t work out’ or people ‘grow apart’. In these cases, often when the parties have good relations, the law is unhelpful. Grounds such as ‘irreconcilable differences’ do not apply in England as they do in Australia or America, and this is something we should be moving towards.

In the meantime, Mrs Owens will remain married to Mr Owens until 2020. At that point, the couple will have been ‘officially’ separated for five years, and her petition for divorce can be granted without Mr Owens’ permission.

It seems extremely unfortunate that one woman’s deep unhappiness and her attempts to extract herself from that scenario ultimately are restricted by outdated legislation and a high profile media case.

If you are in an unhappy marriage, and are unsure as to whether you have sufficient ground to divorce please contact us. We offer a free 30 minute consultation to discuss your situation, either in central Reading, at our offices, or via Skype.