Unreasonable behaviour within divorce proceedings

If you have been involved in divorce proceedings before, or are currently going through them, you may have heard the phrase 'unreasonable behaviour'… but what does this actually mean?

In English Law, the fact of 'unreasonable behaviour' is cited on a Divorce Petition as one of the five facts that can be used to prove one of the grounds for divorce - the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage.

The legal test for the fact of 'unreasonable behaviour' is a subjective one, and it is for the Petitioner (legal word for one spouse) to prove that the Respondent (the legal word for the other side spouse) has behaved unreasonably, and the Petitioner can no longer live with that person.

The statement needed within a Divorce Petition is constructed by a few examples of the alleged behaviour. It can sometimes be designed to be as inflammatory as possible to simply meet the legal test to proceed with Divorce. If this is the case then why can't English Law move closer towards the American approach of a 'no fault' divorce. Well, this has a similar equivalent already in English Law if you cite one of the other five facts for divorce as being a 2 year separation with the other's consent.

Unfortunately this is still little consolation if you don't want to wait 2 years to proceed with your divorce.

For a lot of people the statement of case for unreasonable behaviour only causes tensions to be heightened and for acrimony to increase. If you are using a solicitor to represent you, this often also increases costs. This is not beneficial to either party as sometimes it is a better use of funds to resolve the financial aspects rather than argue about the Divorce Petition.

You may have seen from newspaper articles the recent case of Owens v Owens 2017 EWCA Civ 182, whereby Mrs Owens was refused a divorce (or a refusal of a grant of decree of divorce, in legal speak). This was because the Court determined that the Divorce Petition did not satisfy the requirement of her Husband's alleged 'unreasonable behaviour'.

This caused a high level of interest in the legal sector as it is extremely rare that divorces are ever refused. It has also led to suggestions of reform by introducing a 'no fault' divorce. This would avoid circumstances whereby petitions are refused because statements are made as mild as possible. This approach has support already from Lord Wilson. 

The implications of this recent judgment are troubling, but at Ashfords LLP we are well versed in all facets of divorce law, and can guide you through such difficulties should you decide that divorce is in your future.

If you would like to discuss this further you can contact Zoe Porter.

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