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Unreasonable Behaviour Petitions Linked to Women’s Drinking Habits

April 10, 2017  |   Posted by :   |   Blog

We tuned into an interesting discussion on BBC Radio Four’s Women’s Hour recently, which discussed how an increasing number of divorce applications are citing women’s drinking as the cause of ‘unreasonable behaviour’. One law firm claimed that a third of their cases involving unreasonable behaviour referenced alcohol – a number that has doubled in frequency in the last three years – and while alcoholism is statistically a greater problem for men, there has been a significant rise in mentions of women’s drinking habits in divorce.

GP Dr Sarah Jarvis commented that when it comes to alcohol problems, women are more likely to stick by a partner whose drinking has become an issue, while men are more likely to seek divorce. In addition, the fact that in modern society many women are expected to work full time while also taking on the majority of the childcare and household tasks can lead to immense stress, offset by an increase in alcohol consumption. The shift from ‘traditional’ roles within a marriage may also be a factor – working lunches and drinks after work may create resentment in husbands who expect their wives to prioritise their home life over their career and social life.

However, it’s worth noting that all this evidence is anecdotal, and it is potentially dangerous to place unnecessary emphasis on the drinking habits of wives with the inference that women should abstain from alcohol in order to avoid the risk of divorce! Interestingly, a recent study discovered that excessive drinking in itself is not necessarily a precursor for divorce, but rather the disparity between the amount each person in a couple drinks. Those who have similar drinking habits – no matter whether they drink regularly or are teetotal – are less likely to divorce than those who consume markedly different amounts of alcohol.

The issue, it seems, is one of blame. Currently there is no such thing as a ‘no fault divorce’. There is only one ground for divorce: ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’, and this must be proved by one of five facts. Three of those facts require a waiting period. The other two require evidence of adultery or behaviour. Note that the reason is ‘behaviour’ and not ‘unreasonable behaviour’ – if there is no proof of adultery or wrongdoing, ‘behaviour’ can be used to put forward reasons why one party wishes to seek divorce. This generally occurs because one party will not admit to or does not agree with the accusations of their ex.

Family lawyer Frances Lindsay explains:

“The point of a behaviour petition is that it is completely subjective. So in the interests of not having to wait, the individual must draft a truthful petition which shows that the Respondent has behaved ‘in such a way’ that the Petitioner finds it ‘intolerable to live with him/her.’”

However, the difficulty with behaviour petitions is perspective. What is intolerable to one person may not be intolerable to another – as seen recently in the refuted appeal of Tini Owens, whose petition to divorce her husband on the grounds that she feels ‘unloved, isolated, and alone’ was overruled in court.

“The current trend for behaviour petitions is to use alcohol intake,” Frances Lindsay continues, “The question is: how much is ‘intolerable’? I can manage a glass of wine before I need to lie down. Others can drink a whole bottle without ill effects. ‘Heavy drinking’ is as subjective as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ itself. The point is, it’s not realistic to use a certain number of petitions to extrapolate that women are drinking more and causing divorce. It is more likely that alcohol consumption is a convenient red flag to cite in a petition for unreasonable behaviour in the absence of an option for no fault divorce.”

As a clickbait headline, linking women’s drinking habits to divorce rates is sure to get traffic (and we hope you’ll excuse us using it ourselves to argue the point!), but it is a far more complicated issue than has been suggested so far. At the root of the issue is the inability to choose to separate from your partner without laying blame under the current family law system. Currently, there is no option for ‘no fault divorce’ – the closest a couple can get to resolving their relationship disputes with the minimum of animosity is to choose an out-of-court process such as mediation, arbitration or collaborative family law, and to come to a mutually beneficial decision that isn’t solely based on blame.

To speak to Frances Lindsay or one of our other experienced family lawyers about unreasonable behaviour, mediation, arbitration, collaborative family law, and other options for divorce and separation, please contact us at info@franceslindsay.co.uk, call 01628 634667, or visit www.franceslindsay.co.uk. We have offices in Beaconsfield and Maidenhead and our legal services cover the whole of the Thames Valley, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.

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