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Thursday 6th September 2018

Don't let your divorce end up before the Supreme Court

Divorce has been a hot topic over the summer with two cases ending up before the Supreme Court, and all over the news headlines, because the couples involved could not sort out their differences amicably.

The first case, Mills v Mills, concerned a wife’s request for an increased amount of monthly financial support after she had fallen on hard times. The second, Owens v Owens, concerned a wife’s application to divorce her husband immediately on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour, rather than waiting to be separated for five years when she would no longer need his consent. The husband denied that his behaviour was unreasonable and defended the divorce, arguing that the marriage had been largely successful.

Commenting on the cases, Nick Dudman, family law solicitor at Rundlewalker Solicitors in Exeter explains:
‘While it is unusual for cases concerning divorce to end up before the highest court in the UK, it is sadly not uncommon for disputes about divorce to arise and for the family courts to be asked to intervene in some way. To reduce the potential for conflict, we work hard to help couples avoid reaching crisis point and instead to find mutually acceptable solutions to any issues where there is disagreement.’

‘At Rundlewalker we are a member of Resolution, an organisation committed to the non-confrontational resolution of divorce and other family law matters, and all our lawyers take a positive approach to ensure that you remain in control of the divorce process and reach agreement on financially sensible and workable terms.’

In the first instance, if a couple cannot agree on a point such as the financial settlement or arrangements for children, they will be asked to consider mediation or collaborative law. But sometimes this is not a feasible option, or a mutually acceptable solution cannot be found.

Where one or both parties in a divorce take an entrenched position, it can be necessary to ask the family court to make a binding decision. The court’s decision is usually final, but if the judge made a serious mistake or did not follow the proper procedure you can ask for permission to appeal.

The appeal process can be repeated up through the court hierarchy, with the route dependent on which court and type of judge is involved in your case moving from the County Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and finally to The Supreme Court.

So, what happened in The Supreme Court?
In Mills v Mills the Supreme Court confirmed that where you reach a financial settlement in your divorce which should be sufficient to meet your ongoing needs, a court will require very good reasons to justify interfering with that arrangement to increase or decrease the amount paid each month.

In this case the court said that it would not be appropriate to order Mr Mills to pay Mrs Mills an increased sum in monthly maintenance when the financial settlement she had received at the time of her divorce was more than adequate to meet her needs. The reason she was now finding it hard to cope was because of her own failure to manage that money properly and to make wise investment decisions.

In Owens v Owens the Supreme Court decided that Mrs Owens was not entitled to an immediate divorce on the grounds of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour, despite her having felt compelled to move out of the family home because of the way she had been treated.

Among the allegations she made, Mrs Owens claimed that her husband continually put his work before her, failed to show her an appropriate level of love and affection, made disparaging remarks about her and her family and suffered from mood swings which were the cause of regular arguments.

Upholding an earlier court decision that found the evidence offered in support of her divorce petition to be “flimsy and exaggerated”, the court made it clear that unless Mr Owens could be convinced to change his mind and agree to the divorce, Mrs Owens would have to wait until 2020 before she would become entitled to divorce him without his consent.

As Nick observes:
‘Unfortunately, the couples in these cases chose to take their problems as far as the Supreme Court because it was the only way to get a definitive decision over the rights and wrongs of the matters in dispute. However, in most cases, the need for court intervention can be avoided with early legal advice so that you and your former spouse will be supported to make fair and appropriate arrangements.’

If you are in the first throes of divorce or separation, engaging the services of a good family lawyer/solicitor will help you to understand your options from the outset to avoid points of potential dispute escalating unnecessarily through the court system.

If you require advice on any aspect of your divorce or relationship breakdown, please contact Nick Dudman at Rundlewalker Solicitors on 01392 209 210 or email nick.dudman@rundlewalker.com.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not constitute legal advice. The law may have changed since this article was published and readers should take appropriate professional advice bsed upon their own particular circumstances.