Unreasonable behaviour

One of the facts to support an application for divorce (i.e. that a marriage has irretrievely broken down) is “unreasonable behaviour” through section 1(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, which provides that the court can grant a divorce on the basis that one party has behaved in such a way that the other cannot be reasonably expected to live with them.

There are some obvious examples of “unreasonable behaviour” which will be accepted by the courts in a divorce application:-

  • physical violence;
  • verbal abuse;
  • cruelty; and
  • intimate relationships with other people even where no adultery has been committed.

These are the more obvious examples of “unreasonable behaviour”, but the situation becomes more complex when the behaviour is not so extreme, as what constitutes “unreasonable behaviour” is very much subjective: what is reasonable to one person could be unacceptable to another.

In Bannister v Bannister (1980) (10 Fam Law 240, CA), it was held that the test for “unreasonable behaviour” is not whether the Respondent’s behaviour is unreasonable in itself, but whether the effect of it is such that the Claimant cannot reasonably be expected to continue living with them. This means that:

  • lack of affection;
  • not contributing to household chores;
  • frivolous spending;
  • differences in religious or political belief; and>
  • working long hours or refusing to work.

can all qualify as “unreasonable behaviour” for the purposes of a divorce application, as long as the Claimant finds such behaviour genuinely intolerable to the extent that it has caused the marriage to break down.

It is important to remember that the contents of a divorce application remain private and have no impact upon any related financial proceedings.


Deaf, hubby to Rachel, dad to Corey, Libby and Emily, Solicitor, Lecturer in Legal Practice at University of South Wales, PhD student at University of Leicester.

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