Unreasonable behaviour’ is the most common ground for divorce in UK divorce law. Petitioners must show that one of the parties to the marriage has behaved in such an unreasonable manner that the other finds it intolerable to live with him or her, and as a result the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
So what constitutes unreasonable behaviour? At the milder end examples include one partner refusing to get a job and relying on the other financially, being antisocial or a workaholic. At the more serious end it could include habitual drunkenness, drug taking, running up debts or violence.
Whatever the specifics, allegations of unreasonable behaviour are not subject to a great deal of scrutiny by the court if both parties are agreed on divorce. The courts understand that if one party to a marriage feels so strongly about it as to issue a divorce petition then the marriage has indeed irretrievably broken down and it would be futile to pretend otherwise.
To that end, it is not necessary to make lots of allegations against your partner. A few paragraphs will normally suffice. However, if you do wish to include sensitive information in your claim, such as allegations of drug use or violence, it is important to note you may do so confidentially. Divorce proceedings are private and the reasons for the divorce will not be divulged to the general public. Only the parties themselves need ever know what was in the petition.
No one wants to be accused of unreasonable behaviour and the spouse who receives the divorce petition may initially wish to defend themselves against the claims. It is important to remember that the court’s sole purpose is to decide if a marriage has irretrievably broken down, and not if the specific allegations of unreasonable behaviour are true. Because of this, defended divorce is costly and rarely ever successful.
People often think that if they do not ‘defend’ a divorce based on unreasonable behaviour it will be detrimental to the division of matrimonial property and/or custody of the children, but the reason for the divorce has no bearing on these issues in the overwhelming majority of cases. However, the party receiving the petition may ask for a guarantee that their lack of defence to allegations is not used in any other proceedings.
Another factor to bear in mind when presenting a divorce petition on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour is the time limit. This must be done within six months from the last incident of unreasonable behaviour, providing the parties continue to live together. If one party moves out of the martial home they can still issue a petition on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour after six months have passed, although it is advisable not to wait too long as you may then have to issue a petition based on separation instead, which can take between two and five years (dependent on whether both parties agree or not).
Using unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce is the one of the two quickest allowable grounds for divorce, meaning both parties can get on with the rest of their lives.
This article is intended as an easy to understand introduction to some aspects of divorce, free of legal jargon. However, divorce is a complex, and unfortunately sometimes non-intuitive area of law. Please contact us for more specific advice about your individual circumstances and the legal processes which apply.