Can I defend myself against unreasonable behaviour in divorce?
08 April 2021
If your spouse has cited your unreasonable behaviour as the reason for the breakdown of your marriage, and you don’t agree to this then you are legally entitled to defend the allegations. It’s important to note that defending a divorce can be costly and the Court may decide to grant the divorce anyway, in which case you may just be delaying the inevitable.
Divorce reforms, which are expected to come into force in Autumn 2021, will significantly change the way that couples get divorced. Once these changes come in, couples will be able to divorce without needing to hold either person at fault and it won't be possible to defend the divorce.
In the meantime, under current divorce laws, it is possible to defend a divorce.
It may be that you are in agreement to getting a divorce, but you disagree with the allegations of unreasonable behaviour. In this instance you can raise your concerns in a document called the Acknowledgement of Service or you can submit your own reasons for the divorce to the Court in a Cross Petition.
What is unreasonable behaviour?
In order to have a divorce granted you will need to prove the reason of the breakdown of the marriage to the Court. This can be one of five facts that are recognised by the Court as causing marital breakdown. One of these facts is ‘unreasonable behaviour’.
When citing unreasonable behaviour as the fact for divorce, the person claiming this will need to show the Court that their spouse’s behaviour has been so unreasonable that they should no longer have to remain married to them or live with them. This, in turn, demonstrates that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.
If unreasonable behaviour is being given as the fact for a divorce, then a few examples of the unreasonable behaviour could be submitted to the Court, for a Judge to decide whether to grant the divorce. Examples of unreasonable behaviour might include abuse, neglect, violence or harassment.
What happens if you are accused of unreasonable behaviour?
It’s likely that you won’t find out if your divorce is being based on your unreasonable behaviour until you receive a letter from your spouse’s solicitor, or the divorce petition from the Court.
When divorce proceedings are started the Court will send to you a copy of the petition, which includes the allegations along with a document known as an Acknowledgment of Service. This document allows you to respond to what is stated in the petition. Divorce is often very emotionally challenging, and reading the allegations made against you will no doubt make matters even more difficult.
It may also be that your spouse has chosen to claim the costs of the divorce against you, as they are blaming you for the divorce. These costs could range from being just the Court fees to all the costs incurred, including legal fees. The Court can order you to pay these costs, and if these are not paid the Court can enforced this.
What are the options?
You do have the option to defend the divorce, but defending a divorce is very rare and can be costly. While there is a chance of success it’s important to note that in many cases the Court might decide to grant the divorce anyway.
It may be that you do want to get divorced, but you disagree with the allegations of unreasonable behaviour. In this instance, you could seek to challenge and change the allegations of unreasonable behaviour. However, this may not be the best option as the likely result is that you will still get divorced but at a greater expense and length of time.
Another option is to raise your concerns about the allegations of unreasonable behaviour when you respond to the divorce petition in the Acknowledgment of Service. At this point you will also have the opportunity to dispute any claims for costs that are being made against you, outlining the reason for your objection.
Cross petition the divorce
Alternatively, you could cross petition the divorce. This is where you put forward your own facts for divorce after your spouse has started the proceedings. The Court can then decide whose facts to accept.
How our divorce solicitors can help you
If your spouse is seeking a divorce based on unreasonable behaviour, and you’re unsure of what to do next, our Divorce Solicitors can talk you through the options available to you. We can advise you on the best way to respond to the allegations, including defending the divorce, cross-petitioning or explaining that you disagree with the allegations.
A Divorce Solicitor can also advise you on how to negotiate or challenge any claim for costs that is being made against you.