Ending the blame game? Mills & Reeve represent Resolution in landmark Supreme Court case

Published on
3 min read

Today, Nigel Shepherd and Nicola Rowlings of Mills & Reeve are representing Resolution, the largest family justice organisation, on a pro bono basis at the Supreme Court hearing of Owens v Owens (Resolution intervening).

Today, Nigel Shepherd and Nicola Rowlings of Mills & Reeve are representing Resolution, the largest family justice organisation, on a pro bono basis at the Supreme Court hearing of Owens v Owens (Resolution intervening).

The Owens case is a rare example of a defended divorce that centres on the correct interpretation of one of the most commonly used grounds for divorce – so-called “unreasonable behaviour”. It is also the first case about divorce itself (rather than the financial or child arrangements consequences) ever heard by the Supreme Court. As such, the stage is set for a landmark decision, the ramifications of which will be felt by all divorcing couples.

When Mrs Owens sought to divorce Mr Owens on the basis of his “unreasonable behaviour”, Mr Owens defended the divorce, arguing that the examples of his behaviour that Mrs Owens was relying on were not strong enough to justify a divorce. He said she had failed to show that he had behaved in such a way that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him. When the case came before His Honour Judge Tolson he decided that Mr Owens was right; Mrs Owens hadn’t shown that Mr Owens’ behaviour was so unreasonable that she could not be expected to live with Mr Owens. Judge Tolson refused to grant her a divorce on based on Mr Owens’ behaviour and, following the Court of Appeal upholding that decision last year, Mrs Owens was given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

As a third party intervener, Resolution is assisting the Supreme Court by offering an interpretation of the law that mitigates some of the harshness of the current system but without creating new law. If the Supreme Court allow Mrs Owens’ appeal, Mrs Owens will be able to divorce her husband, something that has been so far denied to her (and which otherwise she would have to wait until February 2020 to do by using an alternative ground based on five years separation).

Resolution (which has a membership of approximately 6,500 family lawyers, mediators and other family justice professionals) works tirelessly to promote a non-confrontational approach to resolving family disputes. They had a clear interest in the issues raised by the Owens case and have also been able to provide the Supreme Court with information as to the practical problems the current interpretation of the law causes. It was by no means a given that Resolution would be given permission to intervene but in doing so, the Supreme Court itself recognised the wide public importance that this crucial decision will have.

We have a wealth of experience dealing with separation, divorce and other family issues. Whether it’s complicated financial circumstances involving businesses, property or pensions, the arrangements for your children or advising on pre-nups and cohabitation agreements, you can rely on our expertise and track record and our ability to call on colleagues in other legal disciplines across our firm. All of our family lawyers are members of national organisation Resolution which promotes a constructive and cost-effective approach. And that’s why we have experts qualified in mediation, collaborative practice and arbitration as well as complex court work. If you have any questions, please get in touch with me or one of our team.

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