Divorce: What is ‘unreasonable behaviour’?






The only basis upon which a Court can grant a divorce is on the ground that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. You can prove an irretrievable breakdown by establishing one or more of the following five ‘facts’:



Unreasonable behaviour


Two years separation with consent

Five years separation without consent.


The most common fact relied upon is that of unreasonable behaviour. It has always been taken that this has meant that the behaviour by the respondent was unreasonable. Obvious examples of this are: excess drinking; physical or verbal abuse; financial irresponsibility; or forming an improper relationship with another person. There are many other examples.

However a current case which is heading to the Supreme Court, may result in a new definition of ‘unreasonable’. In this case, Tini Owens claims she is ‘locked in’ to her 39 year marriage to her former husband, Hugh Owens. He says the relationship broke down after she had an affair in 2013. The divorce petition was based on her allegation that Mr Owens had behaved unreasonably and constantly berated her, was insensitive in ‘manner and tone’ and that one was constantly mistrusted

The Judges at the High Court and the Court of Appeal both rejected her application for the divorce. The Judges said that her allegations were minor and altercations of the kind were to be ‘expected in a marriage’. The High Court Judge also described Mr Owens attitude as ‘old school’. His stance was approved by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, who said that the marriage had not irretrievably broken down in law. He said: ‘Parliament has decreed that it is not a ground for divorce that you find yourself in a wretchedly unhappy marriage, though some people may say it should be’.

The case has been referred to the Supreme Court and Mrs Owens’ legal team are going to argue that the law does not require unreasonable behaviour but rather it requires behaviour such that Mrs Owens cannot reasonably be expected to live with her husband.

It will be interesting to see which way the Supreme Court decides this case. No date has been set as yet.

What is surprising about these circumstances is that the parties have lived apart since 2015. Mr Owens claims he has forgiven his wife for her fling and that he wants them to remain married.

If you need any advice or assistance regarding divorce or any other consequences of a relationship breakdown then please do not hesitate to contact one of our experts;

Nicholas Clough nclough@bromleys.co.uk or Denise Pinder dpinder@bromelys.co.uk or alternatively call on 0161 330 6821.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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