Recent research from Oxford University has shown a significant increase in divorce petitions based on ‘unreasonable behaviour’, overtaking adultery as the most frequently cited grounds for separation.
In 1971, unreasonable behaviour was cited by 17% of women and 2% of men seeking divorce. In 2016 this rose to 51% and 36% respectively.
Conversely, adultery was the most commonly used as grounds for divorce in 1987, peaking at 25% for petitions put forward by women, and 45% by men. This number fell to an average of 11% in 2016.
Grounds of unreasonable behaviour are based on the belief that the ‘respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent’. This is often a somewhat subjective issue but these grounds could be based on verbal or physical abuse, refusal to contribute to the household upkeep, or other behaviours such as alcohol abuse. Other grounds for divorce include: adultery, desertion, two years separation or five years separation.
There are several reasons why petitions of unreasonable behaviour might be on the rise. Under current legislation there is no real ‘no fault’ option for separating couples, with the only realistic alternative being waiting two to five years to get divorced after living separately for this duration. However, many people do not want to wait this long, or require a financial settlement to be addressed more urgently, and unreasonable behaviour may offer a potentially faster ‘fault-based’ alternative. In addition, the evidence required for unreasonable behaviour has decreased in recent years and this option can seem like the easiest way to reach a resolution for some couples.
To establish unreasonable behaviour the petitioner is required to ‘prove’ one or more ‘facts’. But despite the growing popularity of using unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce, many professionals working in family law are concerned that the necessity of attributing blame only contributes to animosity and antagonism during the process, calling for a ‘no fault’ option for separating couples. Currently, there are several out-of-court alternatives which encourage couples to work towards dispute resolution in a more cooperative way, such as mediation and collaborative family law. However, an entirely fault-free solution would enable couples to separate faster, easier and more cheaply, reducing the stress and potential conflict of separation.
Justice Secretary David Gauke recently responded to proposals for no fault divorce and failings of the current law, recognising “the strength of feeling on the issue”, and a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice commented that they are “carefully considering the implications” of the issue, acknowledging that “the current system of divorce creates unnecessary antagonism in an already difficult system” and that they are “looking at possible reforms to the system.”
For more information on unreasonable behaviour and grounds for divorce, and to explore your options for separation, speak to the experienced family lawyers at Frances Lindsay & Co. We are able to offer a free 45-minute consultation to discuss your situation, so get in touch on email@example.com or by calling 01628 634667.divorce, unreasonable behaviour