The Office for National Statistics reports that in 2018, nearly half of all divorces (46.3 percent) in England and Wales were granted on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. This overtook adultery in the 1990s as the main cause for divorce and has remained higher ever since.

If you’re seeking information on what constitutes unreasonable behaviour for the purpose of divorce, this post aims to help you understand what it is, what is deemed unreasonable and the process you need to take in order to file for divorce on these grounds.

What is ‘unreasonable behaviour’ when it comes to divorce?

Unreasonable behaviour is broadly described as behaviour in which one spouse finds unacceptable, to the point where they cannot reasonably be expected to continue living with their partner. It’s important to highlight here that all kinds of behaviour can be deemed unreasonable, and a subjective approach can be taken. There is no finite list which details all of the different examples. This is perhaps why these grounds for divorce have overtaken all others, as so much can be encompassed under the ‘unreasonable behaviour’ umbrella.

If you choose to file for divorce for this reason, you need to ensure that the unreasonable behaviour is not about you yourself, or that your spouse’s behaviour is not a direct result of your own, as you need to show that your spouse’s behaviour has been unreasonable and not your own.  

Examples of unreasonable behaviour for divorce

Although as previously mentioned there is no finite list of examples, we can explore some of the more common reasons someone may wish to file for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. We’ll start with some of the milder reasons before moving onto more serious allegations.

  • A respondent is often away from home due to working long hours, leaving the petitioner alone regularly, causing feelings of loneliness and distress.
  • The respondent has an obsessive hobby and never spends any time with the petitioner.
  • The respondent does not take any interest in the petitioner’s hobbies.
  • The petitioner does not get on with the respondent’s family, to the point where they feel isolated and distressed.
  • The respondent has no interest in socialising with the petitioner or their friends and family.

Please note that the person starting the divorce proceedings is known as the ‘Petitioner’ and the opposing spouse is known as the ‘Respondent’.

It is clear from these common examples of mild unreasonable behaviour that if you are struggling in your marriage due to the actions of your spouse, there is an option to file for divorce on these grounds. However, depending on the severity of the actions, you may wish to file for divorce for more life-altering reasons, of which some of the most common examples are listed below.

  • Verbal abuse. This includes any shouting or belittling which causes the petitioner to feel bad about themselves.
  • Debt, or arguments fuelled by financial issues.
  • Lack of sexual contact, causing distress.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption by the respondent, causing unpleasant, aggressive, or irresponsible behaviour.
  • Domestic abuse.

You’ll also want to think about how you present some form of evidence of the unreasonable behaviour taking place, with as much information and detail as possible. If your partner is not aware of your feelings it can be an awkward conversation to have, however you may want to agree your reasons before the divorce proceedings begin. One final and important point is that the allegations presented must be true – if proved otherwise, there’s a likelihood that the divorce will not be granted on these terms.

What if my spouse does not agree with the terms of unreasonable behaviour for the divorce?

Getting divorced is a difficult and emotional process for everyone involved, and in some cases the respondent may not agree with grounds of unreasonable behaviour as reason for the divorce.

If your spouse is unhappy with the divorce petition, they may wish to defend the allegations. Unless you go on to agree the grounds, sufficient evidence may be required in order to prove that unreasonable behaviour has taken place.

On the other side, if you have been accused of unreasonable behaviour as the grounds for divorce and strongly disagree, you are able to raise your concerns. There are a couple of ways this can be done, such as an Acknowledgement of Service document or via a Cross Petition submitted to the Court. It’s also important to remember that defending a divorce can become a very lengthy and costly process.

If you require more information about the process of obtaining a divorce in England, visit our dedicated divorce process page.

If you are not sure that divorce is the right option for you, you may also wish to consider legal separation.