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What counts as "unreasonable behaviour" in divorce?

When you apply for a divorce, you will need to show that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. There are five reasons accepted for the break down of a marriage: adultery, desertion, having lived apart for 2 years (if your spouse agrees to the divorce) or 5 years (whether you spouse agrees to the divorce or not) and finally, unreasonable behaviour on the part of your spouse.

Unreasonable behaviour is the most commonly cited grounds for divorce in the UK. This is, in part, because it does not require any significant delay following the breakdown of your relationship, unlike all of the other grounds except adultery.

There are various actions your spouse can take which could be deemed unreasonable, but the basic test a court will apply is whether you could be reasonably expected to continue to live with them in spite of this behaviour.

Common examples of unreasonable behaviour

There is no set list of what does and doesn’t constitute unreasonable behaviour, however, some of the most commonly cited examples include:

  • Domestic abuse (both physical and verbal)
  • Drunkenness or drug-taking
  • Refusing to contribute to household expenses
  • Excessive debt taken out without your knowledge
  • Lack of a sexual relationship
  • Lack of emotional support

You will typically need to cite at least three or four examples of unreasonable behaviour to have a strong divorce claim. However, there are exceptions, such as in cases of domestic abuse, where a single incident is often enough to start divorce proceedings.

What happens if your spouse disputes your claims?

After you file your divorce petition with your local court, assuming the petition is accepted, you will be granted a decree nisi. This is a court order which species that your divorce will become finalised on a specific date (usually 6 weeks from when the decree nisi is issued), unless your spouse disputes the petition.

If your spouse does dispute your claims of unreasonable behaviour, you will need to be able to prove in court that what you have said is true in order for the divorce to go ahead.

Using unreasonable behaviour for a “no fault” divorce

Under current UK law, there is no such thing as a “no fault” divorce, where both parties can simple agree to end their marriage without the need to assign blame. For couples that wish to separate amicably without waiting 2 years to apply on the grounds of living separately, unreasonable behaviour is often the only option (unless one of them is willing to admit to adultery).

To keep things amicable, it is usually best for the couple to sit down with a trained mediator, or work together with the support of solicitors trained in collaborative law, to agree what types of unreasonable behaviour one or both of the will be willing to agree to. This can allow the divorce to proceed swiftly without either of the parties feeling pressured to agree to claims from their spouse that they are uncomfortable with.

Crisp & Co’s expert divorce solicitors can advise you on every aspect of your divorce, including how to put together the strongest possible divorce petition, or helping you to dispute a divorce petition if you disagree with its contents. We also have a number of trained experts in mediation and collaborative law who can help you to agree an amicable divorce wherever possible.

To find out more, call us today on 020 3797 4952 or get in touch using the enquiry form below.

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