Gavin Henshaw is the Head of the Family Department at Curzon Green Solicitors. In this article he looks at the issue of divorce and specifically the ground of unreasonable behaviour.
Whilst recently spending my lunchtime idly looking on the internet for inspiration, I came across the following story: -
“In April 2009, a Gernan woman divorced her husband because she was “fed up” with him cleaning everything all the time. The wife got through 15 years of marriage putting up with the man’s penchant for doing household chores, tidying up and rearranging the furniture, but she ran out of patience when he knocked down and rebuilt a wall at their home when it got dirty.”
On reading this, my initial reaction is that I know a number of people (my wife being one of them) who would be pleased that their spouse took such an active role when it came to the household chores and this behaviour would certainly not result in a divorce - although the opposite behaviour could do, and has often, appeared in divorce petitions.
However, I began to ask myself the question of what is actually considered unreasonable in the sense of obtaining a divorce (or a civil partnership dissolution - the law about unreasonable behaviour is identical for both institutions)?
Under English law, in order to obtain a divorce, you must show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by satisfying the Court on one of the following: -
With the four other grounds, the criteria for satisfying these is fairly clear from their description but with the ground of unreasonable behaviour, this is not the case.
In respect of unreasonable behaviour, section 1(2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 states that the Court will find the marriage has irretrievably broken down if it is shown that: -
“…the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent.”
Therefore, under the strict interpretation of this definition, in order to satisfy the Court that the other party has been unreasonable, the person bringing the divorce would effectively have to perusade a Judge that the behaviour was unreasonable.
Clearly, there will be certain types of behaviour, such as physical and emotional violence, that will immediately be seen as unreasonable but what happens when there is no real reason why the marriage has broken down other than the parties simply do not get on and have grown apart? In these circumstances, the reasons put forward, although significant to the person bringing the divorce, may not seem unreasonable to a Judge considering the case.
Thankfully, the Courts tend to adopt a sensible approach to this issue. The Judges are aware that, if an individual feels so strongly about the behaviour of their partner that they issue divorce proceedings, then the marriage has clearly irretrievably broken down and it would be senseless to ignore this fact and stand in the way of the divorce progressing.
The Courts therefore often take a relaxed attitude to the exact type of unreasonable behaviour required and this is especially useful when it comes to progressing the divorce. This approach often allows the parties to discuss and agree with each other the type of behaviour that will be stated in the petition.
By adopting this course of action, one can ensure that the contents of the petition will be sufficient to satisfy the Judge but will not cause any offence to the other party which could then cause difficulties reaching agreements on other issues, such as financial matters or arrangements concerning the children.
Therefore, the simple rule when considering what constitutes unreasonable behaviour is that, if you consider it unreasonable and can justify this, then it will be seen as unreasonable and this can be included in the petition.
Although, as a word of warning, just remember this article in the future when your spouse asks you to do something for them!
For more information about divorce click here.