LONDON – It seems simple enough: if you want a divorce, you can divorce, right?
In the UK, it turns out that the answer is "not necessarily".
On Wednesday, the Supreme The court ruled – reluctantly, even apologetically, but unanimously – that Tini Owens, who has been trying for years to divorce, must remain in her unfortunate marriage to Hugh Owens, who refuses to divorce . Owens' predicament is not permanent. The law states that if a couple has been living apart for five years, a spouse can divorce, even if the others are against it. Ms. Owens will reach the five-year mark in 2020.
The case is an extreme rarity ruling states because the court "never had an opportunity to test" what the threshold for "reasonably" expecting someone to remain married.
Of the 114,000 divorce cases filed in England and Wales in 2016, more than 99 percent were undisputed, the court wrote in its ruling. And of those who were initially disputed, only a small fraction – a total of 17 cases – went to a final hearing of the family court.
There may be few cases that are in the case of Owens v. Owens will follow, but it shows how much has changed since 1973. As the court has stated, what is reasonable in a marriage may be considered different today than it was 45 years ago.
Several courts have heard the case along the way and even as they directed against Mrs. Owens, they appealed to Britain's elected leaders to modernize the divorce laws.
"Parliament might consider replacing a bill that denies Ms. Owens any current right to divorce," Justice Nicholas A. Wilson wrote for the Supreme Court
. Owens, 68, and Mr. Owens, 80, married in 1978 and raised two children in Gloucestershire, western England. According to Ms. Owens, her husband was verbally abusive, so in 2015 she moved out of her mansion and into a property next door.
But it usually makes little or no difference how the word "reasonable" is defined. If one spouse claims not to be able to live with the other, the British courts tend to take the petitioner's word, especially if the divorce is undisputed.
And the Supreme Court said in Owens' case, the legal system encourages people who file a divorce to downplay their spouse's misconduct in order to maintain friendly relations.
Lower courts found that Ms. Owens had not provided enough evidence to "reasonably fail" her husband. The majority of the Supreme Court said that it has no basis for revoking this conclusion.
Judge Brenda M. Hale, the President of the Tribunal, wrote in a separate statement that the trial judge misinterpreted the law, but she voted