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Can my unreasonable behaviour result in my divorce being refused?

In this day and age, many of us believe that if we are not happy with our spouse and we want a divorce, we should be able to get one. Instinctively, we feel that we shouldn’t be forced to stay married to someone, who we do not want to be married to anymore – despite any unreasonable behaviour.

In a recent ruling, the court of appeal refused to allow a woman to divorce her husband because of his ‘unreasonable behaviour’. In this case, Tini Owens had tried to overturn a ruling by the family court, which concluded that her marriage had not irretrievably broken down.

Whilst many would argue that this seems out-dated and unfair, until the law is changed and ‘no fault’ divorce is legal in England and Wales, this kind of, albeit rare, case will continue to hit the headlines.

In England and Wales, there is only one ground for divorce, which is that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.

The petitioner (the person who brings about the divorce proceedings) must show this by proving one of these five ‘facts’:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • 2 years separation with consent
  • 5 years separation without consent


How do I prove ‘unreasonable behaviour’?

First of all, it’s worth noting that defended divorces are quite rare because they tend to be very lengthy and expensive and not many are successful.

‘Unreasonable behaviour’ is the most common ground for divorce in England and Wales. To establish ‘unreasonable behaviour’, the petitioner must show that their spouse has behaved in such a way that they cannot reasonably be expected to live with them anymore.

The petitioner does this by setting out a number of allegations against their spouse (the respondent). How many allegations are necessary in order to prove unreasonable behaviour, depends on how serious the allegations are. For example, if your spouse has been violent towards you, this may be all that you need on your petition, to show that you could not reasonably be expected to live with them anymore because of their ‘unreasonable behaviour’ (in this case violence).

Other, less serious allegations, such as no interest in socialising or lack of communication, may be required in higher numbers.

Your examples of unreasonable behaviour should be recent. You should also include how this behaviour has affected you.

In the case of Tini Owens, her husband did not want a divorce and said that they had a “few years” left to enjoy together. Mrs Owens could now have to wait 5 years and apply for a divorce on the basis that they had been separated for this period of time.

It is worth re-iterating, that this type of case is very rare.

However, it is a good idea to obtain legal advice before completing and submitting your divorce petition. It can also be helpful, if possible, to agree the content of your divorce petition with your spouse before submitting it, to avoid any difficulties further down the line. This can be done via your solicitors, if necessary.

For more information on divorce issues please visit our Legal Library.


Contact us to see how we can help you deal with unreasonable behaviour and divorce

For more information call our team on 0845 862 5001 or email mail@austinkemp.co.uk.

We offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available, in order to have face-to-face client meetings / conferences as and when required in:

Leeds Office: Princes Exchange, Princes Square, Leeds, LS1 4HY

Wakefield Office: Market Walk, Wakefield, WF1 1QR

Halifax Office: Old Lane, Halifax, HX3 5WP

Huddersfield Office: Northumberland Street Huddersfield, HD1 1RL

Coventry Office: Warwick Road, Coventry, CV1 2DY

Canary Wharf Office: 25 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5LB

Please contact us for more details.

10th April 2017

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