Divorce in NI – How Hard is Breaking Up to Do?

familynewThe Supreme Court has refused to allow 60-year-old Tini Owens a divorce from her husband of 40 years despite Mrs Owens claiming her husband had behaved badly towards her and she was unhappy in the marriage.  

Mrs Owens and her husband Hugh married in January 1978.  They separated in August 2013 with Mrs Owens stating that her husband had behaved unreasonably during their marriage in his “continued beratement” of her.  She gave examples of this behaviour in her divorce petition, which included criticising her in front of their housekeeper, arguing with her in an airport shop and not speaking to her during a meal.  Her husband was not accepting of these criticisms of his behaviour and defended the divorce. 

The Judge who dealt with the divorce hearing concluded that Mr Owens’ behaviour towards his wife had not been unreasonable and refused to grant a divorce, stating that Mrs Owens’ allegations were “exaggerated”, “flimsy” and that her husband’s conduct was “of a kind to be expected in a marriage”.   Mrs Owens claimed that this decision meant that she was effectively “locked in” to her marriage, and that it was unfair that she would have to wait 5 years before being allowed a divorce without her husband’s consent.

Mrs Owens appealed to the Court of Appeal who also rejected her arguments, and as such the matter was appealed onward to the Supreme Court where today, five Supreme Court judges have unanimously upheld the lower Court’s rulings. 

Following analysis of legal arguments, the Supreme Court President Baroness Hale stated that whilst she found the case “very troubling”,  it was not for Judges to “change the law”.  Lord Wilson indicated that it was a question for Parliament as to whether the law governing entitlement to divorce remained satisfactory.

So, what is the current law on divorce in NI?

The Owens case has given rise to calls for a change in divorce law as it stands in the UK and NI.  But what is the current law?  I’ve set out some of the main factors that principles legal position on divorcing in Northern Ireland:

1. You need to be married for at least 2 years before you can divorce.

In Northern Ireland, it is by no means the case that any married Tom, Dick or Harry (or their female counterparts!) can get a divorce.  Firstly, you need to have been married for at least 2 years before you can petition for divorce. This doesn’t mean that you are compelled to continue living with your spouse for a full 2 years – you can of course live separately.

2. You need to satisfy a ‘ground’ for divorce.

When applying for divorce, you must show that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and you must satisfy one of the following grounds for divorce in order to evidence this breakdown: –

  • Unreasonable Behaviour  -This is where you submit that your spouse has behaved so unreasonably that you can no longer be expected to live with them. Types of unreasonable behaviour are wide ranging and can include physical or verbal aggression, lack of communication, financial control or misconduct and addictions
  • Adultery – In order to petition for divorce on the ground of adultery, you need to show the Court that your spouse has committed adultery during the course of the marriage. The person with whom your spouse had the affair can be joined and named in the divorce papers also.
  • Two Years’ Separation With Consent – This ground is available where both you and your spouse have lived separately for more than 2 years and your spouse consents to the divorce. You can have been living in the same property during this time but must have lived independently to one another. This can happen where, for example, you both live in the same house but have separate bedrooms and would not cook or clean or spend time with one another.
  • Desertion for Two Years – This is proven where your spouse has effectively ‘deserted’ you. This ground is technically difficult to prove and is very rarely relied upon in divorce proceedings.
  • Five Years’ Separation – This ground is available when you and your spouse have lived separate for more than 5 years. You do not require your partner’s consent on this ground.

What About A ‘No Fault’ Divorce?

High profile cases such as the Owens case have given rise to a call for a “no fault divorce” to be introduced into the law.  It is presumed that a ‘no fault’ ground for divorce would allow unhappy couples to formally end their marriage without either person being held responsible for the breakdown of it. Some say that such an option could ease some of the stress, pain and bitterness that couples often endure during separation. Others believe that to make it effectively ‘easier’ for couples may damage the sanctity of marriage and that couples may not think carefully enough before entering into a marriage if they feel that they can easily divorce if it doesn’t work out.

Both sides of the argument have valid points however in my experience as a lawyer in this area, no divorce is ever ‘easy’ – feelings are hurt, emotions are high and often children are caught in the middle.   It will be interesting to see whether steps are made by the government to introduce such a ground in light of today’s judgement.

If you need any further information on divorce please feel free to contact us here

LIFE BITE: A Faulty Divorce – Supreme Court to hear contested ‘unreasonable behaviour’ divorce case today.

apple-150579_1280Five Supreme Court judges will today begin deciding whether to grant Tini Owens a divorce from her husband,  after the lower courts decided she was not entitled to one. 

Tini Owens is the wife of Hugh Owens, a multimillionaire farmer whom she married in January 1978 and separated from in August 2013. 

In her divorce petition, Mrs Owens stated that her husband had behaved unreasonably in his “continued beratement” of her.  She outlined his conduct in her divorce petition,  which included criticising her in front of their housekeeper, arguing with her in an airport shop, not speaking to her during a meal and making her pick up bits of cardboard in the garden.  She submitted in her divorce petition that this behaviour amounted to divorce .

Mr Owens claimed that he had forgiven his wife for her “misguided” fling in 2012, and told the Court that he wanted to remain married to his wife as they “still have a few years of old age together”.

The Judge hearing the divorce in the first instance,  concluded that Mr Owens’  behaviour towards his wife had not been unreasonable and refused her divorce petition last year.

The Judge described the farmer’s attitude as “old school” and stated that Mrs Owens’ allegations against her husband were “exaggerated” and “at best flimsy”.  The Judge further claimed that the conduct described by Mrs Owens were “minor altercations of a kind to be expected in a marriage” and “an exercise in scraping the barrel”.

The Judge also found that Mrs Owens was “more sensitive than most wives” and that she had “exaggerated the context and seriousness of the allegations to a significant degree”.

Mrs Owens has claimed that as a result of the Court’s refusal to grant her a divorce, she was effectively “locked in” to her marriage with Mr Owens. She claimed that it was unfair that under current law she would have to wait five years before being allowed a divorce without her husband’s consent.

Mrs Owen’s legal representatives have submitted that it is unreasonable to expect her to stay in the marriage, with her barrister adding: “There doesn’t have to be violence, or threats of violence, or gambling or drinking or shouting. There is cumulative effect of what may be regarded as inconsequential conduct, which may justify a finding that it is unreasonable to expect her to stay with him.”

Mr Owens legal representative told the Court that the initial divorce Judge had been “entitled to reject the wife’s case”. The Court of Appeal rejected Ms Owen’s appeal and the matter is now before the highest Court in the land and it is expected that the Supreme Court will deliver judgment on the matter later this year.

For more information on the grounds for divorce here in Northern Ireland, you can read our earlier blog piece ‘Divorce – What are the Grounds?’ or contact us here.

 

 

 

LIFE BITE: Wife refused divorce as unreasonable behaviour claimed is “expected in a marriage”

apple-150579_1280The wife of a multimillionaire farmer has asked the Court of Appeal to overturn the decision made by a lower Court to refuse her a divorce after the Judge hearing her divorce ruled that her husband’s behaviour was to be “expected in a marriage”.

Tini Owens, 65, married her husband Hugh Owens, 78, in January 1978.  In November 2012, Mrs Owens, had a brief fling with another man, which ended in August 2013.

In her divorce petition, Mrs Owens stated that her husband had behaved unreasonably in his “continued beratement” of her.  She outlined his conduct in her petition,  which included criticising her in front of their housekeeper, arguing with her in an airport shop, not speaking to her during a meal and making her pick up bits of cardboard in the garden.  She submitted in her divorce petition that this behaviour amounted to unreasonable behaviour.

Mr Owens has to date claimed that he had forgiven his wife for her “misguided” fling in 2012, and told the Court that he wanted to remain married to his wife as they “still have a few years of old age together”.

The Judge hearing the divorce, Judge Robin Tolson QC, concluded that Mr Owens’  behaviour towards his wife had not been unreasonable and refused her divorce petition last year.

Judge Tolson QC described the farmer’s attitude as “old school” and stated that Mrs Owens’ allegations against her husband were “exaggerated” and “at best flimsy”.  The Judge further claimed that the conduct described by Mrs Owens were “minor altercations of a kind to be expected in a marriage” and “an exercise in scraping the barrel”.

Judge Tolson also found that Mrs Owens was “more sensitive than most wives” and that she had “exaggerated the context and seriousness of the allegations to a significant degree”.

Mrs Owens claimed that as a result of the Court’s refusal to grant her a divorce, she was effectively “locked in” to her marriage with Mr Owens. She claimed that it was unfair that under current law she would have to wait five years before being allowed a divorce without her husband’s consent.

Mrs Owen’s legal representatives have submitted that it is unreasonable to expect her to stay in the marriage, with her barrister adding: “There doesn’t have to be violence, or threats of violence, or gambling or drinking or shouting. There is cumulative effect of what may be regarded as inconsequential conduct, which may justify a finding that it is unreasonable to expect her to stay with him.”

Mr Owens legal representative told the Court that the initial divorce Judge had been “entitled to reject the wife’s case”. ”

The Court of Appeal judges are expected to reserve their decision on Mrs Owens’ appeal and give their ruling at a later date.

For more information on the grounds for divorce here in Northern Ireland, you can read our earlier blog piece ‘Divorce – What are the Grounds?’ or contact us here.

 

 

LIFE BITE: Brangelina No More! Angelina Jolie files for divorce from Brad Pitt

apple-150579_1280Angelina Jolie’s lawyer confirmed yesterday that she has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt.   The couple have been together since 2004 and have six children.  They were married in August 2014.

 

In a statement made by Angelina’s lawyer, we were told that she filed for “dissolution of marriage” on Monday and that the “decision was made for the health of the family”.

Sometimes, for one reason or another, a marriage just doesn’t work – regardless of whether you are rich, famous movie stars or not.  In fact, here in Northern Ireland, currently one in four marriages ends in divorce.

Ending a marriage can be one of the most difficult and stressful times in a person’s life.  Making the decision to end your marriage brings with it many worries and fears about how life will change upon divorce. The last thing that any person going through a divorce wants to worry about is having to navigate a long, complicated legal process to reach the end result.

It may be a relief to know that the legal procedure for divorce here in Northern Ireland is fairly straightforward.    We have put together below some information for you on our blog to explain how this process works.

Click here to read more

IF YOU WOULD LIKE MORE INFORMATION ON THE LEGAL PROCESS OF DIVORCE OR IF YOU HAVE A QUERY REGARDING YOUR OWN DIVORCE, PLEASE DO NOT HESITATE TO CONTACT us at cedgar@fhanna.co.uk OR kconnolly@fhanna.co.uk or LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS CONFIDENTIALLY BELOW.

LIFE BITE: Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannatyne gave false evidence in Divorce

apple-150579_1280Former Dragon’s Den’s star and entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne has failed in an attempt to prevent a newspaper from reporting allegations that he gave false evidence during his divorce in 2012.  

Last month, the Mail on Sunday claimed that during the course of his divorce proceedings, Mr Bannatyne had misrepresented the terms of a business agreement he had with Graham Armstrong, who ran one of his fitness companies, and had done so in an attempt to reduce the share of assets that his wife could claim in the divorce. The Dragon’s Den star had subsequently expressed “deep regret” and apologised for the way in which the business agreement had been misrepresented.

Mr Bannatyne took legal action to try and stop the newspaper from publishing these allegations, claiming that information about his divorce should be kept private. However the Judge ruled that there was a public interest in exposing Mr Bannatyne’s attempts to mislead a court even though he had apologised for doing so.

This is another in an increasingly long line of media stories involving husbands failing to provide full disclosure of their assets in divorce proceedings.   In all Court proceedings dealing with the division of assets on divorce, each spouse is legally required to provide the Court with full details of their entire financial position. This information is required to ensure that the Court and both parties are aware of the full extent of each other’s financial circumstances at the time a decision is being made as to how the matrimonial assets are to be divided.

If you would like any further information on this issue or any matter concerning divorce or division of matrimonial assets, please feel free to contact us here or leave us a message below.