Divorce and Unreasonable Behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour is the most common reason given for an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage in England and Wales. This is because it enables a reasonably quick divorce as opposed to three of the other reasons which require separation of at least two years, plus it doesn’t require one of the partners to have committed adultery.

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What is unreasonable behaviour?

“Unreasonable behaviour” is the term used to describe the fact that a person has behaved in such a way that their partner/spouse cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.

It is important to understand there is no definitive list of unreasonable behaviours used in divorce petitions. It could be one or two serious incidents, to many more petty issues. In reality the courts take a very pragmatic view – if two people no longer wish to be married, there has undoubtedly been some form of behaviour (however extreme or minor) which has led them deciding on a divorce or dissolution of their relationship.

Where there is a long history of unreasonable conduct the usual rule is to rely on the first, worst and last events. You also have to be careful how you draft the allegations, as these may aggravate an already sensitive situation and also have an impact on any children. Best practice is to try and agree the content of the allegations with the Respondent beforehand.

The most important thing is to have a solicitor who knows what they are doing. A good solicitor will almost always be able to draft an unreasonable behaviour petition that will satisfy a judge.

What types of behaviour are considered unreasonable?

The most common examples of unreasonable behaviour are:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Excessive/lack of sex
  • Unreasonable sexual demands
  • Inappropriate association/relationship with another person
  • Debt/financial recklessness
  • Verbal abuse, shouting or belittling
  • Social isolation
  • Excessive/lack of socialising
  • Drunkenness

In many cases relationships can drift apart without there being any extreme behaviour such as those above. In these instances it is necessary to find other less serious behaviours. For example :

  • The Respondent is unemployed and so always under the Petitioner's feet
  • The Respondent works long hours and so is always out working and never at home
  • Excessive DIY has been used as an unreasonable behaviour
  • Preferring to spend time with a pet rather than the Petitioner
  • The Respondent is dictatorial

What is the time frame for using unreasonable behaviour?

If you continue cohabiting with your partner/spouse, for a cumulative period of more than 6 months after the last alleged unreasonable behaviour, the Court may refuse to grant the Petition as part of the consideration of whether you can reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent. The longer the cohabitation, the less likely the Petition will be granted and the better an explanation is likely to be required.

Living in the same house is not the same as cohabitation. If you do continue to live under the same roof, as long as you live separate lives, the six month time frame may be disregarded. Separate lives means things like not sleeping in the same bed, not eating meals together and not doing the other person's washing or washing up. The longer you are living separately in the same house the more concerns the Court may have with regard to allowing a divorce/dissolution using the fact of unreasonable behaviour.

The best advice would be to try to start divorce proceedings within six months as then the court will have no reason to question the reason being given.

Should you defend a divorce petition?

The harsh reality in England and Wales is if you wish to divorce without waiting two years, someone most be “blamed” for the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage/partnership. This is often difficult for people to accept, particularly when both people are to blame. There are three good reasons for not defending the petition (i.e. allowing it to go ahead without objecting):

  1. The petition will remain completely private and will not be divulged, so no-one will ever see the reasons given for the irretrievable breakdown
  2. The reasons given will have absolutely no bearing on the other parts of the divorce/dissolution, i.e. the finances and the child arrangements.
  3. The costs of the petition will be much lower, as the solicitor’s fees for an undefended petition are considerably lower, plus they can be split between the parties in whatever way they agree.
  4. If the petition is defended, the court is much stricter on scrutinising the allegations of unreasonable behaviour and this may cause problems if they are a little more “trivial”

In the large majority of cases, divorce petitions are not defended and judges accept that if both people wish to split, a divorce/dissolution should be granted. If a respondent is concerned about the unreasonable behaviours given, they can agree not to defend it on the condition no use is made of it in further proceedings such as the financial and child arrangement proceedings.

What should you do next?

Even though unreasonable behaviour is the most common reason cited for divorce, it is also the most complex and the easiest to get wrong. That’s why it’s always wise to speak to a solicitor first. At Routh Clarke we have a vast amount of experience in helping clients to write their divorce petitions, call us now to hear how we can help you.

For help with your divorce petition, call us now on 01935 823883