How to use unreasonable behaviour as the grounds for divorce UK

Originally published on 28th September 2018 at 10:20 AM
Reading time: 7 mins
Link copied to clipboard

No-fault divorce was introduced in England and Wales on the 6th of April 2022 which removes the need to choose one of the five facts to support the 'irretrievable' breakdown of a marriage. All the information below is applicable to the previous system, and divorces that were issued before the 6th of April 2022.

You can read more about this change in our no-fault divorce guide

What is unreasonable behaviour?

Unreasonable behaviour is one of the five ‘fact’s or ‘grounds for divorce’ in England and Wales. You can use examples of your partner's behaviour to demonstrate that your marriage has broken down ‘irretrievably’.

We do not yet have ‘no-fault divorce’ in England and Wales (though the law is changing on this in late 2021) which means, one person has to divorce the other, turning the process into a 'blame game'. This can cause unnecessary acrimony at times of high emotional stress. We’ve written a helpful guide on how to keep things amicable if you’re using this as your reason for divorce.

Guide to using unreasonable behaviour as the grounds for divorce:

Step one: Have you done your research?

There are five reasons you can use to prove to the courts that your marriage has broken down past the point of repair:

For example, have you been living independently for two years or have you been apart for over five years? If you have, you may find using those grounds less acrimonious and more amicable as they do not require you to ‘blame’ your partner.

The most common reason used is unreasonable behaviour and if you agree this is the most relevant for you then you and your ex must agree who is going to divorce who.

What does unreasonable behaviour mean?

Unreasonable behaviour means your partner has behaved in such a way that you are unable to live with them anymore. There are usually two reasons for submitting an unreasonable behaviour petition.

  • Firstly, that your ex’s behaviour is so bad that you feel you cannot stay together.
  • Secondly, there are no other grounds for divorce you can use.

Until no-fault divorce is introduced in England and Wales in late 2021, many couples are left with alleging unreasonable behaviour. If you haven’t been separated for at least two years, and no one has had an affair, there are no other grounds for divorce left. This means kicking off the process with blame and accusation. Not a great way to start. Especially if there are children involved or you have to make financial arrangements and need to negotiate with each other.

However, it doesn’t need to be an acrimonious process if you follow our steps below, or if you feel as though you need more personal advice, book a call with one of our experts now.

Step Two: What examples of unreasonable behaviour will you use?

Here are some example of types of unreasonable behaviour that can be used to divorce your partner:

  • Lack of emotional support
  • Violence/ Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Financially irresponsible e.g failure to support the family, household costs.
  • Lack of support in general, around the house, in your career etc
  • Gambling to excess on a frequent basis and/or creating debt without your knowledge
  • Drug/ alcohol abuse
  • Refusal to discuss/work on issues within the marriage
  • Not wanting to engage in any sexual or physical relations
  • Limited socialising happens as a couple

If you would like more examples of unreasonable behaviour or want to know how to word them in the divorce petition, we have written a blog on examples of unreasonable behaviour.

Step three: Does my partner need to agree to this as grounds for divorce?

No, you can begin divorce proceedings without your partner agreeing to the divorce if you are using unreasonable behaviour. If you have been separated for two years, but your partner doesn’t agree to the divorce, then you can use unreasonable behaviour and use your separation as an example of unreasonable behaviour.

What if my ex-partner doesn’t agree with the divorce?

You can still start divorce proceedings but your partner may choose to contest the divorce. If they do this they will need to submit what’s called ‘an answer’ to your petition and pay a fee of £245. Few people succeed in counter petitioning and it can be expensive. There is rarely much point. Better to focus on moving forward rather than arguing about what has gone before. Unreasonable behaviour does not affect your financial settlement. Pragmatism is called for (see below).

What if my ex-partner disputes the detail of the unreasonable behaviour?

A better route than contesting the divorce is for your partner to state that they will not contest the divorce but do not agree with the allegations you have made. There is a box to tick in the paperwork that the court sends you to do this. If you need help with this, please book a free call with one of our experts to discuss how to respond to the examples of unreasonable behaviour your ex has used against you.

Step four: How do I start divorce proceedings?

The divorce proceedings start when you submit your divorce petition. The ‘petitioner’ (the person initiating the divorce) writes around five bullet points describing the unreasonable behaviour of the ‘respondent’ (the person who in their view has acted unreasonably). It’s a tricky balance to get right. The petition must be serious enough to pass in the eyes of the law, but not spiteful so that it causes unnecessary aggravation when you may have to co-parent or discuss finances. Remember, you can use examples such as you no longer live together, this helps keep things amicable and avoids placing all the blame on your ex.

From here, there are options about how you’d like to divorce depending on how much control you want throughout the process and how much you have to spend on getting divorced.

The chart below shows the options to kick off divorce proceedings from the highest control and lowest cost (essentially DIY divorce) to the most expensive option with the least control being through the court.

Step five: How does unreasonable behaviour affect the divorce/dissolution paperwork?

There are several stages to divorce dissolution. First, the petitioner (the person starting the proceedings) must submit the petition (also called the D8). We have written a full guide on the process of filing for divorce.

The Petition:

If unreasonable behaviour is used as the grounds for divorce/dissolution, then the petitioner must include between four and five examples of unreasonable behaviour on the petition.

The acknowledgement of Service:

The respondent must fill out the acknowledgement of service. You can state on the form that you do not intend to defend the divorce, but that you do not agree with the allegations made against you.

The decree nisi:

The decree nisi is comprised of the D84 form (which remains the same) and the D80 form which changes depending on the ‘fact’ or ‘grounds’ used. For unreasonable behaviour, it’s the D80 B form.

The decree absolute:

The final part of the divorce/dissolution paperwork, the decree absolute, does not change depending on the grounds.

If you would like any help with how to use unreasonable behaviour as the grounds for divorce, to divorce your partner, or if you would like more tips on how to keep the process as amicable as possible speak to one of our experts today .


Who pays for divorce unreasonable behaviour?

The petitioner must pay the initial court fee, however can tick a box on the petition to state they would like the court to issue an order that the respondent and/or the co-respondent should pay some/ or all of the court fee for the petition. This is usually on the case with the grounds for divorce of five years separated.

How long does it take to get a divorce for unreasonable behaviour?

If you and your ex are in agreement to the divorce, and unreasonable behaviour is used as the grounds, then the divorce should take four to six months. However, if you’re planning on submitting a consent order, this will take longer.

If you’re not in agreement then the process may take more time as, if your ex is unwilling to sign the paperwork, then you may have to look at different options such as ‘deemed service’.

How do you prove unreasonable behaviour in divorce?

When the petitioner submits the petition to submit the divorce, if unreasonable behaviour is used then the petitioner must include four to five examples of unreasonable behaviour to demonstrate why a divorce is necessary.

Start your amicable divorce journey

Speak to an amicable Divorce Specialist to understand your options and next steps for untying the knot, amicably.

Book a free 15-minute consultation

Comments (0)

By clicking submit you accept our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.