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How to divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour

By , on Friday August 12, 2022 at 10:39 am

Recent changes to the way divorce proceedings are handled in the UK have provided much needed reform to the previous laws which dated back to 1973. These new divorce laws have removed the need to place blame on a partner by using reasons such as ”unreasonable behaviour”.

Now, the only accepted ground for a divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. Couples will no longer need to give any other reason for their divorce and will simply need to make a formal statement of irretrievable breakdown. You may have heard of the reforms being referred to as “no fault divorce”.

So, what was “unreasonable” behaviour in divorce?

Unreasonable behaviour in a divorce was previously used to cover a multitude of sins. It referred to behaviour that one party found unacceptable, and the courts deemed serious enough to grant a divorce.

Having to provide an example of unreasonable behaviour in order to justify a divorce is one of the reasons why the no fault divorce was introduced. The law previously requires you to list faults of the other person, which made an already emotionally charged situation worse, leading to denials and counter claims, slowing down the process and costing everyone involved money and additional stress.

Examples of unreasonable behaviour in a divorce may have included things like:

  • Financial mismanagement
  • A partner being argumentative
  • Inappropriate interactions with another person
  • A lack of intimacy in the relationship
  • Excess time away from the home

The use of unreasonable behaviour in a divorce was widely condemned, but since April 2022 these reasons have not been needed in order for a divorce to be obtained.

If you are considering a divorce but are unsure of the new rules, an experienced divorce and family lawyer will be able to talk you through the options for you and suggest the best route to take for your circumstances.

How someone may have demonstrated unreasonable behaviour

Before the introduction of the no fault divorce, demonstrating unreasonable behaviour required the party starting divorce proceedings to satisfy the court that the other party to the marriage “has behaved in such a way” that they “cannot reasonably be expected to live with them”. The test has been defined as whether a right-thinking person would conclude that the party starting proceedings could not be expected to live with the other party.

In some rare instances, demonstrating unreasonable behaviour may not have been enough and the divorce may have been contested by the other party. The court would then use a 3 strand test to determine whether the behaviour was reasonable or unreasonable. This test included:

  • an examination of what the person did
  • an examination of that behaviour upon the party applying for the divorce
  • as assessment by the court taking these 2 factors into account and the evidence before it as to the history of the marriage

To put it simply, demonstrating unreasonable behaviour was about whether two parties could be reasonably expected to live with each other. Luckily, under the new divorce laws, the option to contest a divorce has been removed in all but incredibly specific circumstances. For instance, where English courts don’t have jurisdiction.

How long does divorce take for unreasonable behaviour?

Before the introduction of the no fault divorce, unreasonable behaviour in a divorce would have taken around 9-12 due to delays in the courts processing divorce cases.

Now however, key changes in the divorce process means that a divorce will now take a minimum of 6 months. This is due to the introduction of a 20-week cooling off period before a conditional order can be issued.

Talk to one of the Woolley & Co family solicitors and they will be able to advise on how long things might take in your circumstances.

Unreasonable behaviour FAQs

Who pays for a divorce where there is unreasonable behaviour?

Whoever starts the divorce (the applicant) will be required to pay the court fee as part of the process. A couple can, however, agree to split this cost between them. Each party would normally pay their own solicitor’s costs unless the couple have agreed otherwise. What are some examples of unreasonable behaviour?

Under previous laws, examples of unreasonable behaviour in a divorce would have included:

  • Inappropriate interactions with another person, not including adultery
  • Domestic abuse
  • Excess time away from the home, for instance working excessively
  • Issues with financial mismanagement, for example gambling or being in debt
  • Argumentative behaviour, this can include a spouse regularly being in a bad mood
  • Discontent with the couple’s sex life, for instance having excessive or a lack of sex, or even unreasonable requests in the bedroom
  • Verbal or phycological abuse

How long will a divorce take if using unreasonable behaviour?

Under the new rules, using a reason like unreasonable behaviour is no longer necessary, or indeed possible, in order to get a divorce. The entire divorce process will now take a minimum of 6 months from beginning to end.

Do I have to prove unreasonable behaviour?

No, you no longer need to prove unreasonable behaviour in order to get a divorce. Instead, the sole applicant or joint applicants will need to submit a statement of irretrievable breakdown to the court.

This statement will act as the only reason needed for a couple to divorce. Before the no fault divorce laws were introduced, unreasonable behaviour was one of five reasons that could be given in order to get divorced, but this is no longer necessary.

How do I prove unreasonable behaviour in a divorce?

Under previous divorce laws, it was necessary to provide a statement of unreasonable behaviour if used as a reason to start proceedings. This could often cause upset or anger and increase acrimony in what might already be a tense situation.

Now however, all that is needed is the statement of irretrievable breakdown. This change was made in order to update divorce laws to reflect the modern views regarding marriage, as well as to reduce further conflict amongst couples. Reducing conflict is particularly important for couples with children.

Can a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour be contested?

Contesting a divorce could previously be done in order to argue against claims of unreasonable behaviour within a marriage, or to dispute the examples given. This had the potential to prevent the divorce from taking place.

Under the new no fault divorce however, it is no longer possible to start divorce proceedings on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. The only ground is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

With the exception of very rare circumstances, for instance, where the marriage was not valid, or the English and Welsh courts do not have the jurisdiction to handle the divorce, this ground cannot be contested.

With the change in divorce law there has been some confusion, so if you need more information feel free to contact any one of the Woolley & Co lawyers for an initial free telephone consultation.

Kate Butler
Divorce & family lawyer, Northampton

Blog Author - Kate Butler

Kate ButlerKate Butler

Kate is a Northamptonshire-based divorce and family lawyer with Woolley & Co, Solicitors.


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