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Divorce – What is unreasonable behaviour?

<span line-height:1.6em"="">A divorce petition based on unreasonable behaviour is used to bring an end to a marriage in many divorces.

The unreasonable behaviour is from the Petitioner’s point of view and must be behaviour that they find intolerable to live with.

Unreasonable behaviour can take many forms. Approximately four or five examples of the Respondent’s behaviour are included in the petition. These examples can range from the Petitioner not feeling loved, their spouse working too much, their spouse not keeping the house tidy, their spouse drinking too much, to more severe examples of domestic violence, drug use and abuse allegations etc. The examples of behaviour are personal to each case and as long as they show that from the Petitioner’s point of view they cannot tolerate living with it, the petition should succeed. 

It is common for spouses who receive an unreasonable behaviour petition to feel attacked. The reality is that under the laws of England and Wales, unless spouses have been separated for over two years, someone has to be “blamed” for the divorce. Many family solicitors are arguing that this should change. The spouse who receives the petition does not need to admit to anything. The Judge who considers an undefended divorce does not make a ruling as to whether the examples of behaviour are true. They simply have to be satisfied that the marriage has broken down.

The Respondent can protect their position - so that if the same allegations are raised in other proceedings for example financial or children, they can defend them within those proceedings. This enables the divorce to proceed as quickly and as cost effectively as possible, which is usually the ultimate aim of both spouses. The contents of any divorce petition are also private and only the parties to the case and the Judge will know what the petition contains. Divorce proceedings are private and the information is not available to the general public.

It is standard practice where possible for the examples of behaviour to be agreed before the petition is issued at court. There is also usually agreement reached about how the court fees and the costs of the divorce.

An unreasonable behaviour petition is often used as a means to an end. It does not make any real difference who obtains the divorce. As long as both spouses are certain the marriage is over, an unreasonable behaviour petition can be a quick and cost effective way to bring the marriage to an end.

Emma Hubbard is a solicitor specialising in Family Law. She is based at our Sheffield office. Emma can be contacted on 07889648497 or

For our other offices in Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Leicester, London, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Sheffield and Gateshead please contact 0845 894 1622.

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