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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Divorce law - reform needed


Can you get a better divorce outside the UK.

Isn’t it about time the divorce laws of England and Wales came into line with Australia, Sweden and Japan, to allow for no fault divorce?

The recent widely publicised family law case of Owens v Owens illustrates why this change is so needed. Mrs Owens sought a divorce on the ground of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour.  Theirs was an extremely long marriage of some 39 years.  Mrs Owens was ‘desperately unhappy’ and made a number of allegations against her husband. 

Her husband however denied their marriage had broken down irretrievably and after hearing evidence the Judge refused to grant a divorce.  Mrs Owens further application to the court of appeal was also unsuccessful. 

The sad outcome of the case therefore is that Mrs Owens will remain locked into a loveless marriage until she can bring a new petition for divorce based on a five-year separation.  This has led to great concern and renewed calls for introduction of a ‘no fault’ based divorce amongst family lawyers.

The Owens v Owens case led me to consider historic reported divorce laws from around the world, to see if anywhere else had a ‘better way’ of getting a divorce. My research threw up a number of bizarre approaches to divorce which make for amusing reading. 

  • In Saudi Arabia a woman has grounds for divorce if her husband fails to bring her fresh coffee every morning.
  • In Samoa it is legal for a woman to file for a divorce if her husband forgets her birthday.
  • In Kansas a woman can file a divorce if her husband fails to get on with her mother.
  • In Kuwait a man can be imprisoned for looking ‘sensually’ at another woman.  He is also forbidden from looking lustfully at any female animal, which is probably just as well.
  • In Colorado an old law states that a man can be thrown into jail for scowling at his wife on a Sunday.  Presumably the rest of the week is fine!
  • Traditionally, if an Aboriginal woman in Australia wanted to separate from her husband she could either try to persuade him or simply go ahead and wed another man to end their marriage.
  • The best one for me is that according to ancient Chinese law in Hong Kong it is legal for a woman to murder her husband if he is caught cheating.  The catch though is that she can only kill him with her bare hands. I am sure there are a few women in the UK who have considered this approach during their marriage!

Of course, none of these bizarre foreign divorce laws would find favour within the English divorce jurisdiction but I am sure there are a lot of spouses out there who would welcome them! Any husbands out there whose wife is insisting on emigrating to Hong Kong – beware!

Joking aside, whilst such bizarre divorce laws will never see the light of day in this country, the time has come to consider the introduction of a no fault divorce system which a considerable number of lawyers, myself included, are campaigning for. When countries as diverse as China, Malta, Sweden and Australia can have no fault divorce, why can’t we? Sadly, for Mrs Owens any reform will come too late.

Nick Wiseman
Divorce & Family Lawyer, Great Yarmouth


Loading comments...

Agree with the principles of Nick’s item re Mrs Owens.
No fault divorce is long overdue in the UK.
Also, the loss of legal aid options generally, and to support some people through divorce, is one that should in my view be re-addressed in the future as costs can be unpredictable and relatively high for the petitioner, when adversarial issues come to the fore ... 
thanks Nick for highlighting the no fault issue.

By Alison B on Friday September 1, 2017

Alison - thank you for taking the time to comment. I totally agree with your sentiments. The withdrawal of legal aid has and continues to cause extreme difficulties and perceived injustice for litigants as they struggle without proper legal representation. Both no fault divorce and the re-introduction of some funding support generally from the Government would greatly improve the landscape in my opinion.

By NICK WISEMAN on Monday September 4, 2017

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