What is unreasonable behaviour?
‘Unreasonable behaviour’ in a divorce is used to describe your spouse acting in such a way that you can’t reasonably be expected continue living with them.
Of the five possible grounds for divorce, unreasonable behaviour is the most used. This is because it can be used to describe a broad range of behaviours, from the irritating to the illegal.
Unreasonable behaviour is what you can’t be expected to put up with. The law provides a lot of scope for your personal circumstances. So, in general, if something about your spouse’s behaviour upsets you, you’ll probably be able to use it on your divorce petition.
That said, some behaviours come up time and again. Here are the most common examples of unreasonable behaviour.
1. Domestic abuse
Domestic abuse is the most serious form of unreasonable behaviour.
No one should have to live with a partner who subjects them to physical, emotional, mental, or sexual abuse. It goes without saying that you should leave your spouse immediately if you’re being abused.
Remember that domestic abuse may not always be physical. Frightening or intimidating behaviour from your partner can be just as damaging to your wellbeing.
If you're a victim of domestic abuse, you might be eligible for legal aid to get help paying for your divorce.
Find out more in our guide: How to get help paying for legal fees.
2. Excessive habits
We all have our unhealthy habits. From playing video games to scrolling though social media, there are a lot of distractions fighting for our attention.
For most of us, this isn’t usually a problem (even if it does annoy our partners from time to time). But if your spouse indulges their habits at the expense of paying attention to you, this can become unreasonable behaviour that harms your marriage.
Exactly where this point is will be different for everyone. Maybe you value space from your partner and encourage doing activities apart.
On the other hand, being regularly ignored by your spouse as they have fun in cyberspace might make you feel isolated and resentful. If so, you can use it as evidence of unreasonable behaviour.
3. Reckless spending
Financial problems are one of the main reasons why marriages breakdown.
While disagreements about finances are common between couples, one spouse acting recklessly with the marital finances can be considered unreasonable behaviour.
Reckless spending by your spouse might include things like:
- Racking up debts from gambling
- Funding an alcohol or drug addiction
- Making extravagant purchases that you can’t afford, like expensive cars or luxury jewellery
What you consider to be 'reckless' spending will depend on your personal circumstances. But a good rule of thumb is that any significant spending by your spouse that ignores or harms the wellbeing of you and your family could be used as evidence of unreasonable behaviour.
4. Drunkenness or drug abuse
Living with someone who abuses alcohol or drugs can put a lot of strain on a marriage.
Most of us can enjoy an occasional drink without it causing any problems. But some people can’t (or won’t) control themselves.
Living with substance abusers can be difficult. They often behave unpredictably, and struggle to keep commitments, like paying bills on time.
Unfortunately, substance abusers are also more likely to abuse their partner physically or verbally.
If your spouse is regularly drunk or intoxicated, you can use this as evidence of unreasonable behaviour.
5. Inappropriate relationships with someone else
Nothing destroys a marriage quite like an affair.
Adultery – sexual relations with someone of the opposite sex other than your spouse – is a ground for divorce by itself. However, it’s notoriously difficult to prove and often isn’t worth using on the divorce petition unless your spouse is prepared to admit it (which, let’s face it, they’re probably not).
If you suspect your partner of adultery, it’s generally easier to use unreasonable behaviour on your divorce petition, citing their inappropriate relationship with someone else. This might also include 'emotional cheating', where your partner is romantically involved with someone else, even if their relationship isn’t physical.
6. Lack of socialising together
Having separate hobbies and social groups from your spouse is a normal and healthy part of married life. But if your partner doesn’t regularly spend time with you, this might be unreasonable behaviour that can hurt your marriage.
There’s no 'right' amount of time you must spend together as a couple. Rather, your spouse’s behaviour is unreasonable if they don’t make the effort to meet your needs.
7. Lack of support
A lack of support in a marriage can cause the relationship to breakdown.
A marriage should be a partnership. That means sharing the responsibilities that come with marital life. If your partner fails to give you support, that can be used as evidence of unreasonable behaviour.
There are many ways your partner could fail to provide support. Common examples might be not helping with household chores and childcare. But it could also include a lack of emotional support, like not being there for you in a personal crisis.
8. Lack of affection
A lack of affection in a marriage often means that divorce isn’t far away.
No one expects the thrill of love to last forever, but a strong marriage depends on regular displays of affection. If your spouse doesn’t show you any affection, you can use this as evidence of unreasonable behaviour.
A lack of affection could be anything from a lack of sexual intimacy to more general displays of affection, like handholding or emotional support.
How to use unreasonable behaviour on your divorce petition
Unreasonable behaviour is one of five grounds for divorce you can use on your divorce petition to prove that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’.
If you want to start divorce proceedings immediately, unreasonable behaviour is usually your best option. Otherwise, you need to have been separated from your spouse for at least two years, which isn’t helpful if you want to get divorced right now. Alternatively, you can claim adultery, but this is difficult to prove.
Filing for divorce using unreasonable behaviour isn’t without potential difficulty, though.
Until no-fault divorce becomes available in April 2022, you need to provide four or five examples of your spouse’s unreasonable behaviour on your divorce petition. This may make your spouse feel attacked and resentful. Ultimately, they may become less likely to cooperate and could even contest your divorce petition.
To help your application for divorce go more smoothly, you should try to get your spouse to agree with the examples you give of their unreasonable behaviour. You might need to compromise here to find examples that your partner is willing to admit to. But it's worth it if it helps them consent to your divorce.
Talk to a solicitor
Starting divorce proceedings is a big step. If you’re thinking about getting divorced, you should talk to a divorce solicitor as soon as possible for advice and support.
The Law Superstore connects you with family solicitors across England and Wales. Just type in a few details to compare prices and connect with professionals who’ll guide you through the divorce process.