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What counts as unreasonable behaviour in a divorce?

One woman’s fight against a family court ruling could change the way couples separate forever. In 2015 Tini Owens, 68, sought a divorce and told the court that she wanted to end her 40-year marriage to her husband Hugh Owens, 80, because they had become unhappy together. Refused a divorce from a family court and the court of appeal, Tini took her case to the UK’s highest court this year where supreme court judges were forced to “reluctantly” dismiss her on the basis that a joyless marriage is not yet adequate grounds for a divorce if one spouse refuses to agree. The five judges unanimously upheld the earlier rulings that the pair must stay married, despite the complaint from Owens that the marriage was loveless and had broken down. “The appeal of Mrs Owens must be dismissed. She must remain married to Mr Owens for the time being,” the supreme court judge Lord Wilson said in the majority ruling. “Parliament may wish to consider whether to replace a law which denies to Mrs Owens any present entitlement to a divorce in the above circumstances.”

Consultation on no fault divorce

Following the ruling, the Government announced plans for a major consultation on introducing a ‘no fault’ divorce in the United Kingdom, where one partner would not need to file for divorce against another who admits culpability. Resolution, an organisation that represents 6,500 lawyers working in family law and supports the introduction of no-fault divorce, welcomed the move and confirmed there was a “divorce crisis” in England and Wales. Nigel Shepherd, the body’s former chair and long-time campaigner for no-fault divorce, said: “In practice, our current laws can often create unnecessary conflict in divorce – forcing couples to blame each other when there is no real need, other than a legal requirement, to do so. For over 30 years Resolution has been campaigning for a system fit for a modern age, where separating couples are treated like responsible adults and supported to resolve their differences as amicably as possible.”

If the consultation passes successfully, introducing a no-fault divorce in the UK would undoubtedly be a good thing for families who have struggled to come up with a reason other than that they just fell out of love, or for partners who are still on good terms and have no interest in effectively ‘blaming’ one for the marriage falling apart. The no fault divorce could keep families on better terms by maintaining their privacy at a time of high stress and would hopefully lead to stronger co-parenting relationships where each parent is on an even footing with one another. Until then, though, the law still insists that one partner be the petitioner and on the respondent. This means that when you’re seeking a divorce, one of you has to effectively serve the other with a divorce, by citing one of several set grounds for the separation. Grounds for divorce range from separation for terms of two and five years, adultery, desertion and unreasonable behaviour.

Unreasonable behavior in divorce

Unreasonable behaviour is a hugely popular reason to file for divorce, because examples of ‘unreasonable’ behaviour are so far reaching. Official guidance from the Government suggests that any behaviour that you could not be expected to live with would suffice, including physical violence, verbal abuse and drug or alcohol abuse. Other, perhaps less obvious, reasons that are also often referenced by disappointed spouses include

  • Lack of emotional support
  • Financially irresponsible e.g. failure to support the family
  • Lack of support in general, around the house, in your career etc
  • Refusal to discuss/work on issues within the marriage
  • Not wanting to engage in any sexual or physical relations
  • Limited socialising happens as a couple

The examples themselves will not be enough to prove your grounds to the court, you will need to remember specific instances of their negative behaviour and cite them in some detail. Usually five examples are an ample number, and you will need to explain what happened and how it made you feel. If you are intending to separate amicably, it’s a good idea to talk to your spouse about your examples before they read them in court documents, because it can be a shock to read an emotional account of your behaviour. Some couples even choose for the respondent to write their own examples of their unreasonable behaviour so relations between both parties don’t become strained, but that would be your choice.

Going through a divorce will always be a difficult time for a couple, particularly when there are children involved, but maintaining an amicable relationship can help streamline the process for all parties. Quickie Divorce has helped hundreds of thousands of uncontested couples separate, and our Personalised Plus Service package even includes a Clean Break Agreement to guarantee that financial deals you and your ex-spouse reach are enforceable by law.


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