A few weeks ago a court in Mumbai granted a divorce on the grounds of cruelty based on the wife’s verbal abuse of the husband and her denying him food by locking the refrigerator!  They had been married for 19 years.

There have been past stories of wives cutting up their husbands’ clothes over disagreements, particularly affairs, and husbands damaging their wives’ possessions in a fit of rage, but what really constitutes unreasonable behaviour in the eyes of the English court?

It is very common to cite unreasonable behaviour as a ground for divorce and it is the most common ground for divorce in England.  That is because people either do not want to wait 2 years to petition with consent of the other spouse; or they think the other spouse will not consent, or otherwise have no ground for adultery and definitely do not want to wait 5 years to get a petition issued without the consent of the other spouse.

The other person’s behaviour has to be sufficient to be unreasonable.  Unreasonable behaviour has to be any conduct, active or passive which constitutes behaviour.  Behaviour is more than a mere state of affairs or state of mind.  In a case called Buffery –v- Buffery the wife complained that the husband did not take her out, they had lost their ability to talk to each other, and that they had “nothing in common”.  Although this petition was dismissed, in general it does not have to be particularly bad behaviour.  In the scheme of things you just have to prove that the “other party behaved unreasonably”.  If the petition had been worded differently i.e. “non-communication by the husband” and “him actively making no effort to be a part of the marriage” it would probably have been enough for a judge to allow the petition to be granted.

An example is that one wife in 2012 appealed to the Appeal Court unsuccessfully to argue that “normal squabbling between a husband and a wife” could not be deemed sufficient cause to end a long union as she did not want her husband’s petition to be granted.  They would argue over the washing machine and his fondness for “intensively farmed meals”.  The Court of Appeal dismissed her argument.

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