In the UK, a woman is being forced to stay married.

What if you wanted to get divorced, but your spouse didn’t agree – and that meant you had to legally stay in the marriage against your will?  While that may sound farfetched and antiquated to some, this very issue just played out very publically in the British media. 

No Way Out

A Supreme Court case in England recently made headlines because Tini Owens had attempted to divorce her husband, but her request was denied in family court because he opposed the divorce.  As a result, she took her fight all the way to the Supreme Court to get justice.  And that court rejected her appeal, meaning she must remain married until 2020

Shockingly, “Under the current law in England and Wales, unless people can prove their marriage has broken down due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without a spouse's consent is to live apart for five years.”  The five-year time frame runs out in 2020. 

This story resonated with me because I have spoken to so many women contemplating divorce who erroneously believe they need their Husband’s permission or consent to move forward with divorce. 

In California, the other party’s agreement to divorce is not required.  For example, a person in opposition to divorce cannot ignore the petition for divorce or refuse to participate as a way to stop the divorce.  A failure to participate simply means the court will proceed without them.  Otherwise, a person seeking divorce would be forced to stay married, much like Ms. Owens.

So why have my clients mistaken believed they need their spouse’s permission or consent to pursue divorce?  Some have told me they heard it somewhere, saw it in a movie, were misinformed by their spouse or just thought that was the way things worked.  This underscores how critical it is for anyone contemplating divorce to inform themselves about their legal rights so they can make informed decisions about their future.  Relying on inaccurate information to make arguably the most important decision of your life is dangerous – and could keep you in a marriage longer than desired.