Surge in couples citing unreasonable behaviour for quick divorce

There has been a huge rise in the number of couples citing “unreasonable behaviour” as grounds for obtaining a quick divorce.

Researchers at Oxford University found that the number of divorces granted to wives because of unreasonable behaviour rose from 17% in 1971 to 51% in 2016. The increase was even sharper for husbands, rising from 2% to 36% over the same period.

Under current law there are five reasons for being granted a divorce by the courts:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • The couple have lived apart for more than two years and both agree to the divorce
  • The couple have lived apart for at least five years, even if the husband or wife disagrees.

John Haskey, who led the research, said that when the Divorce Reform Act took effect in 1971, it was assumed that most divorces would use separation as grounds for divorce, either with the agreement of both partners after two years or without agreement after five years.

However, that is not how it turned out. The figures show that 63% of divorce proceedings brought by the wife use one of the three fault clauses, while 48% of husband led divorces do so.

The increasing use of the fault approach suggests people are not prepared to wait two or five years if they can find an alternative. Mr Haskey said this could be for a variety of reasons including the need for wives to access finance.

Speaking to the Times newspaper he said: “Divorcing couples have become pragmatic in using the provisions of divorce law, learning — or being advised — that petitioning on a fault fact ensures a faster divorce than on a separation fact [two or five years] with unreasonable behaviour providing the fastest.

“Much of the criticism of the present law stems from this differential in the speed of obtaining divorce, which can encourage a needless exaggeration of the respondent’s failings and contribute to the conflict and bitterness of the present system.”

The figures are released amid growing calls for divorce laws to be reformed to remove the need for blame.

Baroness Butler-Sloss has put forward a private member’s bill in parliament proposing a system of no-fault divorce, which would enable couples to end their marriage without having to apportion blame to avoid having to wait two or five years.

Ministers have indicated that the bill may receive government support.

We shall keep clients informed of developments.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.