Can my spouse refuse to divorce me?
A problem frequently encountered by divorcing couples upon their relationship coming to an end was finding what grounds to rely upon when petitioning for a divorce.
For many years English law stipulated that divorcing couples had to prove their relationship had irretrievably broken down relying on one of five facts set out by legislation. These facts being:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Two years’ separation with consent
- Five years’ separation without consent
Choosing which fact to rely on would often lead to acrimony between the divorcing parties as the respondent to the divorce may not have always agreed with the fact relied upon by the petitioner.
This resulted in the respondent refusing to cooperate and sign the divorce petition.
In these cases it was necessary to prove service of the divorce petition to show the court that the respondent was indeed aware of the divorce proceedings and at times attend contested hearings where the respondent could set forth why the divorce should not proceed on that fact.
The result of all of this was an increase in legal and court costs for the petitioner and delays in the divorce proceedings concluding.
Owens v Owens  UKSC 41
The issues that arose with the above approach were exemplified in the case of Owens v Owens. In this case a divorcing spouse was refused her divorce petition based on unreasonable behaviour of her husband as the Court felt that the incidents relied on were “exaggerations” and no more than normal altercations between spouses.
Ms Owens’ appeal was not allowed and she was consequently forced to wait 5 years to be able to apply on the grounds of 5 years’ separation without consent.
Developments post Owens
Following the case of Owens legal professionals and the legislative felt it was necessary to update English divorce laws that were seen as outdated.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 was introduced and came into force from 6th April 2022.
The purpose of this act is to allow couples to divorce without “assigning guilt” to the other party and therefore removing the need for the respondent spouse to consent to the divorce.
Couples considering a divorce will therefore no longer need the other spouse’s consent in order to obtain a divorce allowing them to focus on the more important aspects of their separation such as child arrangements and matrimonial assets.
At Sterling Law we are able to advise and assist you if you are considering a divorce with prices starting from £800 plus VAT for simple cases.