Grounds for divorce – is there any way around the blame game?


The legal system is steeped in history and tradition – and the wheels turn very slowly. It’s hardly surprising that when you step through the doors of a court house that you feel you need to wind your watch back 70 years or so.

In a world that is changing faster than ever, that becomes a growing problem. Technology is changing the way we communicate and conduct financial transactions, but in a UK court, you will still see a traditional stenographer and plenty of notes being taken in longhand.

Of course, it is not just technology that has changed. Today’s social and family structures are different to how they were 30 years ago. And 30 years from now they will probably be similarly unrecognisable. Times are changing, and the rate of change is accelerating. But the institution of marriage is very much as it has ever been.

There is nothing wrong with that as far as it goes – it is comforting to know that whatever else has changed, the commitment between a husband and wife means the same as it always has. However, a fact of this institution is, and always has been, that not all marriages last forever.

Despite our best intentions, marriages break down for all sorts of reasons. Again, this is nothing specific to the 21st century. King Henry VIII got through spouses with all the rapidity of the modern day media celebrity.

Grounds for divorce

Of course, 600 years ago, and even 60 years ago, the dynamic between husband and wife was completely different. Today, there is still gender inequality as far as pay gaps are concerned, but in other respects, men and women are on an equal footing. Yet the legal system is struggling to catch up.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about no fault divorces and whether they are likely to be introduced. The discussions are still ongoing, and there is plenty of logic behind an adult couple who want to end their marriage being able to do so without having to sling mud at one another. As things stand, however, it is still necessary to cite reasonable grounds and that means playing the blame game.

What are reasonable grounds?

Legally, you can file for divorce if you have been separated for a specific length of time – two years if both parties agree or five years if one party disagree. You can also cite “desertion,” which has a certain 19th century feel to it, adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

While the separation, desertion and adultery grounds are all quite clear cut and well defined, it is this last one that is the most complex, simply because there is a degree of subjectivity.

What is unreasonable behaviour? It could be anything from physical violence to spending every day at the pub instead of looking for work to putting the toilet roll on the holder the wrong way around.

The point is that while the first might sound like an obvious yes and the last like an obvious no, there are those who stay in marriages for years despite having their lives threatened by a violent partner, and others whose relationships collapse over the most minor of irritations.

Digging for the dirt

The frustrating thing is that most marriages do not end because a partner is violent or commits adultery or for any of the reasons that happen every day in EastEnders. Most are simply a matter of a couple falling out of love and finding that they are no longer making each other happy.

It’s sad, and it takes bravery for the couple to acknowledge that they need to do something about it for themselves and each other. For one party to then have to dig at the other’s actions to find “unreasonable behaviour” can only serve to make it harder to keep things amicable.

Professional support

Until the lawmakers say differently, however, these are the rules we are forced to work to, and this is why even the most pragmatic divorcing couple needs expert, impartial support.

If you are contemplating divorce, for whatever reason, we have a professional team, who have helped thousands negotiate the divorce minefield and come out the other side unscathed. You can give us a call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

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