What Counts as Unreasonable Behaviour in Divorce?

Cara Nuttall
Author:
Cara Nuttall
Partner and Family Law Solicitor
Date:
28/06/2021

After a recent announcement that the introduction of the No Fault Divorce Bill was being delayed until April 2021, the issues with existing law, which means ‘no fault’ divorce is only available after 2 years of separation, has been back under the spotlight in the case of Mr and Mrs Ayeh-Kumi.

Divorce Defended Over Disputed Behaviour Allegations

Mrs Ayeh-Kumi is reported to have issued a divorce petition based on her husband’s unreasonable behaviour, one of the most common Grounds for Divorce. The examples she cited included Mr Ayeh-Kumi having worked long hours, which meant he was absent from family life and times such as holidays.

In a rare example of a defended or contested divorce, Mr Ayeh-Kumi argued that the divorce shouldn’t be granted and that it would be a breach of his human rights to allow it.

The High Court rejected his objections and allowed Mrs Ayeh-Kumi to proceed with the divorce.

What Counts as ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’?

There is no set definition of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ but the Court must be satisfied that the behaviour was sufficient to cause the marriage to “irretrievably break down” and that the person asking for the divorce (the Petitioner) finds the behaviour “intolerable” to live with.

This involves a mix of:

      • Objectively looking at whether the behaviour is enough to end the marriage
      • Subjectively looking at the impact on the petitioner as an individual

The famous case of Tini and Hugh Owens in 2020 looked at what kind of behaviour would be considered to be ‘enough’ to justify the ending of a marriage. The case famously ended with Mrs Owens being told she had not satisfied the test and couldn’t progress a divorce based on the allegations she had made.

The Owens case was used to support the calls for urgent divorce reform, to allow people in unhappy marriages to bring them to an end without having to make more serious or unpleasant allegations against the other, and to avoid a long wait.

Finding the Balance in Divorce

Until the new divorce laws come in, people will be faced with the challenge of preparing divorce petitions that are enough to satisfy the Court that the marriage is over without upsetting and inflaming the situation any more than needed. But this is not always an easy balance.

A good Divorce Lawyer can help find the middle ground and in some cases agree the wording with your former partner beforehand, to avoid unnecessary arguments or ill feelings later on.

Of course, there will always still be some rare cases where a divorce does need to be defended, but defended divorces can be lengthy and stressful cases, and are something that will be only be right in certain circumstances.

It is common to feel angry or upset when you see examples of your ‘unreasonable behaviour’, and you might not to accept they are true.

There are ways of allowing the divorce to progress whilst saying you don’t accept the allegations are true, without the need to formally defend the divorce. This means you can avoid the stress and expense that defending a divorce can bring.

A Family Law Solicitor can explain your options and make sure you are protected, but you should only get into contested proceedings if it’s the right thing for you.

If you’re struggling to know what to put in your divorce petition, you don’t know if you are entitled to a divorce, or you have received a divorce petition with allegations you dispute, our specialist team can help explain your options, so you can decide what to do and make a well-informed decision.

For initial legal advice call our Family Law and Divorce Solicitors

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