Unreasonable behaviour is one of the five ‘facts’ couples can cite to show that their marriage has irretrievably broken down and thus are entitled to a divorce under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

According to research from Oxford University, unreasonable behaviour is the most common ground for divorce, with more than half of women (51 per cent) and more than one-third of men (36 per cent) using it to secure their divorce as for many it is the only “immediate” ground available to them.

But what constitutes ‘unreasonable behaviour’ and how can it be used to prove your marriage has irretrievably broken down? Fiona Yellowlees, a Partner in the Family Law department at WBW Solicitors in Newton Abbot and Sidmouth, explains

You must have been married for at least a year to file for divorce on the ground of unreasonable behaviour, and you need to show that your spouse has acted in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to continue living with them.

You will need to include a written explanation including examples of your spouse’s unreasonable behaviour in your divorce petition, as well as details of when they acted in this manner and how the behaviour affected you.

What counts as unreasonable behaviour is wide-ranging and can consist of gambling, being overly obsessive, refusing to spend time or have sex with you, verbally abusing you or spending too much time at work. More serious allegations could include physical abuse, threats of violence, heavy drinking, drug use or running up debts.

Sometimes the person facing divorce proceedings (the respondent) will agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down but may not agree with the written examples of unreasonable behaviour. In this situation, defending the divorce may seem futile but they do not have to agree with the allegations; instead, they can indicate on the acknowledgement of service form sent to them by the courts that that they do not accept the allegations but do accept the marriage is over, allowing the divorce to go through without any findings of fact being made by the court.

Courts generally adopt the stance that if one side feels the marriage has irretrievably broken down then it probably has and will usually grant the decree nisi and the eventual decree absolute in such circumstances.

When filing for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour, in most cases strict time limits apply. This means if you and your partner carry on living together, you must file a divorce petition within six months of the last incident of unreasonable behaviour – otherwise you will be deemed to have accepted the behaviour.

How a solicitor can help

A specialist family law solicitor can help ensure all the paperwork required for your petition is in order and help you decide which examples of unreasonable behaviour would be best to use. Petitions can be rejected if there is insufficient evidence, so it is wise to get your petition drafted by a specialist divorce solicitor.

They can also negotiate with your ex-partner and their legal representatives on financial details and arrangements for any children of the marriage so that you do not have to, and offer legal advice and court representation throughout the process if required.

For further information, please contact Fiona Yellowlees in the Family Law team on 01626 202415 or email fionayellowlees@wbw.co.uk. WBW Solicitors has offices in Newton Abbot, Paignton, Torquay, Bovey Tracey, Exeter, Launceston, Exmouth, Sidmouth and Honiton.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.