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When your behaviour isn't unreasonable enough...

View profile for Catherine Day
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When is behaviour not unreasonable enough?  

In essence, that is the question that the Court of Appeal has recently been asked to determine in the case of Owens v Owens.

In summary, Mrs Owens sought a divorce from her husband, Mr Owens, of 39 years based on his Unreasonable Behaviour. He would not agree and chose to defend the proceedings.

Based on the facts of the case, Mrs Owens could only petition her husband on the basis of his Unreasonable Behaviour.  To do this, she had to provide the Court with approximately 6 examples of his behaviour on which she intended to rely when asking the Court for a divorce.

Mrs Owens has been unable to prove Mr Owens’ Unreasonable Behaviour to either the Central Family Court’s or the Court of Appeal’s satisfaction.  In fact at the initial hearing, her Petition was described as “hopeless” and “scraping the barrel”.

As a result of the Court of Appeal ruling against her, Mrs Owens now faces a substantial legal bill.

At present, in England and Wales, there are 5 ways in which you can petition for divorce:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable Behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. Two years’ separation with consent
  5. Five years

However, you can only divorce immediately following the breakdown of a marriage (once you have been married for a year) by petitioning on the basis of either your spouse’s Adultery or Unreasonable Behaviour.

Therefore, Unreasonable Behaviour is often used for those couples who seek an immediate divorce but where adultery is not an option.

For non-lawyers, the concept of Unreasonable Behaviour can seem antiquated and odd -  mainly because it is! 

On the one hand, those divorcing are encouraged to do so as constructively as possible by using services such as mediation, for example.

In contrast to this, fault based divorce still exists which is hardly the best foundation for couples seeking to resolve matters as constructively as possible.  

For us as practitioners, it is a challenge to ensure that a Petition is suitably strong enough without undermining the hope that the process can be as constructive and as non-confrontational as possible.

As indicated in the Court of Appeal judgment, divorce law in this country requires urgent reform and organisations such as Resolution, the organisation of Family Lawyers, have been pressing for no fault divorce – which is clearly needed in the 21st century. For now, we have to deal with the law as is stands!

Here at Eric Robinson, we have a team of experts who can assist you with any questions you may have about the Divorce or Dissolution process.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact Catherine Day of this office on 01590 647670 or catherine.day@ericrobinson.co.uk

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