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How to divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour is by far the most common fact used in divorce. This can be almost anything but if you want your divorce to go smoothly, there are some areas to steer clear of.

In England and Wales, there are five facts you can use to ask for a divorce, often called the grounds for divorce: adultery, two years separation (if both agree), five years separation, desertion and unreasonable behaviour. The last option is by far the most common that we see.

So what is unreasonable behaviour in divorce?

The reality is it covers a multitude of sins – and to a large extent, the courts do not care. There is not a scale of worse or better. There is no emotion attached. In most cases, it has no bearing on any other aspect of the divorce, like where the children live or the financial settlements. It is simply a requirement that examples of unreasonable behaviour are listed in the divorce petition. This is why there is a growing clamour for a no fault divorce in this country. The law currently requires you to list faults of the other person, which can make an already emotionally charged situation worse, leading to denials and counter claims, slowing down the process and costing everyone more money. But that is a topic for another day.

Generally, we would advise between three and six examples are included in a petition. You do not need to go to town and deliver a long list!

There are some common examples of unreasonable behaviour but the first thing to say is that if you want a straight-forward uncontested divorce, there are some areas to try and steer clear of. A professional divorce lawyer with be able to advise on these. 

It is wise to steer clear of issues surrounding the children if possible, for instance excessive discipline. People do not like children being brought into the equation. While there may be a genuine reason for wanting to include something relating to the kids, there will be plenty of other things to choose from that are less inflammatory.

Others to avoid if possible are things like financial mis-management and excessive drinking. Ironically, these are among the most common ones but they are likely to provoke a defensive reaction from the other party, trying to justify their actions or play the situation down. If they do that, they will be contesting the divorce which will slow it down and up the cost.

To keep things moving, it is best to stick to fairly mild reasons, like your partner being moody and/or argumentative, inappropriate relationship (not adultery) with another person, or a lack of intimacy. Spending too much time working rather than with the family is one of the most common, non-inflammatory reasons we see.

And of course, there are a whole range of bizarre and more unusual ones that we won’t go into here but are quite often sex-related.

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. Remember this though, while you may feel like putting the knife in, or contesting all the examples of unreasonable behaviour listed by your partner, doing so will score no points with the court and is likely to cost you time and money.

By Andrew Woolley
Divorce & family solicitors Woolley & Co

Blog Author - Andrew Woolley

Andrew WoolleyAndrew Woolley

Andrew is the owner and managing partner of Woolley & Co. He regularly offers comments and views on a range of family law issues.

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