Since it was revealed that ‘unreasonable behaviour’ had been cited as the evidence for the ground of divorce in Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi’s divorce proceedings, it seems there has been an increase in media attention surrounding the grounds for divorce and what can constitute ‘unreasonable behaviour’. It seems everywhere one goes; there is talk of whether their own spouse behaves unreasonably in terms of what is accepted by the courts. I often comment to a client that as human beings we can all behave unreasonably from time to time, but it is the behaviour towards your spouse that can often be most unreasonable and lead to the breakdown of a marriage.
It may come as a surprise that there is actually only one ground for divorce. It is identified in section 1 (1) of the Matrimonial Causes Act which states;
”¦ a petition for divorce may be presented to the court by either party to a marriage on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably’.
The common misconception is that grounds for divorce also include adultery and unreasonable behaviour. This is not the case – there are five ways by which the grounds for divorce can be proved:
2. Unreasonable behaviour
4. Two years of separation and consent
5. Five years of separation
Unreasonable behaviour can cover a variety of different things and can range from physical violence to constant degradation and name-calling, or having an improper relationship with another person. This is often used when it may be difficult to prove adultery, but a client’s spouse has formed a relationship with someone else. The Courts will consider the affect that the behaviour of one spouse has had on the other in concluding whether that behaviour could be deemed ‘unreasonable’. The test is a subjective one, not objective. What may be unreasonable to one person, may not be so to another.
The willingness to cite unreasonable behaviour has undoubtedly become more common. Recent studies showed that there has been a substantial rise in the number of divorce proceedings which have cited unreasonable behaviour being the fact causing an irretrievable breakdown of marriage.
The results of one study revealed that in 1970 just 28% of divorce proceedings cited unreasonable behaviour as the cause of the breakdown in the marriage whereas in 2013 this figure has already reached 47%. Alongside this increase, there has, perhaps surprisingly, been a 14% drop from 1970 – 2013 in the number of cases relying on adultery to evidence the ground for divorce. Citing unreasonable behaviour can be a speedier and cost effective way of obtaining a Decree of Divorce, and does not involve any third party.