In England and Wales, to get a divorce you need to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This needs to be based on one of five legally recognised reasons or 'facts for divorce.' Unreasonable behaviour is one of these facts and this article explains how to get a divorce on the basis of unreasonable behaviour.
Facts for Divorce Explained
In order to demonstrate to the Court that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, you'll need to cite one of the following five reasons:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Two years' separation with consent
- Five years' separation
Adultery, unreasonably behaviour and desertion are commonly referred to as 'blame-based' options, whereas citing separation as the reason for the divorce is considered a 'no-fault' option. This is because in the first three options, one person's actions are directly to blame for the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, whereas neither person is individually at fault for separation.
How to Begin a Divorce on the Basis of Unreasonable Behaviour
To begin divorce proceedings on the basis of unreasonable behaviour, the person who is alleging the unreasonable behaviour will need to submit a divorce petition to the Court. This person is called the Petitioner.
On the divorce petition, they will need to provide information regarding the marriage along with personal details of themselves and their spouse. They will also need to state on this document that the reason for the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is their spouse's unreasonable behaviour.
Once the Court has received the divorce petition, this will be issued to the other person. This person is called the Respondent. The Respondent will then have an opportunity to defend the divorce if they disagree with the statements that have been made. For more information on how this process works, see Can I Defend Myself against Unreasonable Behaviour in Divorce?
Very few divorces in England and Wales are defended. Doing so can be very costly and the Court could still decide to grant the divorce anyway. In order for the divorce to proceed, the Respondent will need to return a document called the Acknowledgement of Service. Alternatively, the Respondent could put forward a Cross Petition, in which they state their own reasons for the divorce.
Proving Unreasonable Behaviour in Divorce
As unreasonable behaviour is a blame-based divorce option, evidence of this will need to be proven to the Court. The Petitioner will need to provide examples of the unreasonable behaviour that has been carried out by the Respondent.
In order to grant the divorce, the Court will need to be satisfied that these examples are sufficient to result in the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
In one high-profile divorce case, the Court refused a divorce on this basis. In this case, Tini Owens sought a divorce from her husband of 40 years, Hugh Owens. She cited his unreasonable behaviour as having caused the breakdown of their relationship.
Hugh Owens contested the divorce and his wife was required to provide evidence of his unreasonable behaviour to the Court. The Court ruled that the behaviour evidenced wasn't sufficient to result in the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. As a result, Tini and Hugh Owens remain married.
Finalising the Divorce
Once the Court is satisfied that the Respondent's unreasonable behaviour has caused the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship, they will issue the Certificate of Entitlement. From here, the divorce will proceed in exactly the same way as it would if any other fact had been cited.
Once the Court has issued the Decree Absolute, the marriage will legally have ended. It's important to note, however, that the Decree Absolute doesn't sever financial ties between the couple. In order to do this, it's necessary to make an application to the Court for a Clean Break Order.