Nav: Home

'Unreasonable behaviour' most common ground for divorce (new research suggests)

July 30, 2018

What grounds do people give for wanting a divorce?

That question sits at the centre of a new Oxford University study which charts the changes in the main 'facts' that husbands and wives give for petitioning for divorce, since the Divorce Reform Act 1969 was implemented in 1971.

The Act made the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage the sole ground for divorce, which can be established by 'proving' one or more 'facts' - though the 'fact' is not necessarily the cause of the breakdown.

In addition to 'fault-based' facts, which imply blame: 'unreasonable behaviour', adultery and desertion, the Act introduced two new innovative, 'no-fault' separation facts; one of 2 years' separation with both parties agreeing to divorce, and the other of 5 years' separation without agreement.

It was originally hoped that these 'no-fault' facts would account for most divorces, but, despite an initial uptake, this has not proven to be the case. Over time, people's use of the law for legally ending their unions has changed considerably, with the fault-based fact of 'unreasonable behaviour' most used in recent years, and desertion the least.

John Haskey, an Associate Fellow of Demography in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at Oxford, examined the available statistical data and some earlier demographic analyses on how current divorce legislation has been used in practice since the Act was introduced.

His analysis finds that after 1971, the facts used most frequently to get a divorce were 'fault' based - 'unreasonable behaviour' for wives, and adultery for husbands. However, since 1991 there has been a modest growth in the relative importance of both the separation facts, for divorces granted to both husbands and wives.

Divorces granted to wives citing adultery peaked in 1987 at 25 per cent, and at 45 per cent of those awarded to husbands. But both proportions fell substantially to 11 per cent in 2016. In the case of husbands, this trend was counterbalanced by the growth in the proportion of divorces on 'unreasonable behaviour'.

Desertion is now the least used fact for divorce. It was already used proportionally less than others in 1971, but continued to fall afterwards, and represented less than 1 per cent of husbands' and wives' divorces in 2016. Part of the reason for this lack of use may be that respondents must have deserted the petitioner for at least two years before they file for divorce - which is exactly the same wait as for two years' separation with consent.

Petitioners and respondents may together have preferred the latter option, no-fault, less adversarial, fact.

Overall, there is a clear pattern of 'fault' fact divorces combined having steadily increased as a proportion of all divorces from 1971 to 1991, after which they formed a steadily decreasing proportion. As far as the balance between 'fault' and 'no-fault' divorce is concerned, the situation has returned to exactly the same as it was just after the Act was legislated, with 63 per cent of wives' divorces, and 48 per cent of husbands' divorces, being awarded on a 'fault' fact.

The proportion of divorces granted on the grounds of 'unreasonable behaviour' has grown considerably. Of divorces granted to wives, the proportion awarded on 'unreasonable behaviour' has trebled from 17 per cent in 1971 to 51 per cent in 2016. And for divorces granted to husbands, the corresponding change has been even more dramatic, from having been the least used fact in 1971 to the most used in 2016 (from 2 per cent to 36 per cent of husbands' divorces).

Of why the 'fault' facts have been preferred, and in particular 'unreasonable behaviour', John explains: '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 - with 'unreasonable behaviour' providing the fastest. Divorcing wives may well need to obtain ancillary relief urgently, which may explain their greater use of 'unreasonable behaviour' than husbands. Furthermore, the strength of evidence, and level of detail, required for 'unreasonable behaviour' has weakened over the decades, and is now nominal.'

He explains: 'At present, no petition can be made within one year of marriage, but a petition on adultery or 'unreasonable behaviour' can be made immediately after that, whereas a petition on 2 years' separation can only be made after a further 2 years, and after a further 5 years for 5 years' separation. Hence the separation facts do not stand a 'sporting chance' in the stakes for selecting a winner for a quick divorce, in a 'flight to the swiftest'. 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. There is divided opinion over the retention of fault as a ground for divorce, and proposals for an entirely fault-free system, but a general recognition of the failings of the current law.'
-end-


University of Oxford

Related Divorce Articles:

Parents' divorce increases risk of health disorders in children
The children's well-being is usually one of the biggest concerns when a couple gets a divorce.
Narrative journaling may help heart health post-divorce
Journaling after divorce could improve cardiovascular health -- but only if it is done in an expressive way that tells a story, new University of Arizona research suggests.
Surprising health changes among postmenopausal women who marry or divorce
Contrary to previous data, a new study finds that some health measures in postmenopausal women, such as body mass index (BMI), tend to worsen if the women marry and to improve if they divorce or separate from their partner.
Songbirds divorce, flee, fail to reproduce due to suburban sprawl
New University of Washington research finds that for some songbirds, urban sprawl is kicking them out of their territory, forcing divorce and stunting their ability to find new mates and reproduce successfully, even after relocating.
Beginning pornography use associated with increase in probability of divorce
Beginning pornography use is associated with a substantial increase in the probability of divorce for married Americans, and this increase is especially large for women, finds a new study.
Is divorce seasonal? UW research shows biannual spike in divorce filings
University of Washington researchers found what is thought to be the first quantitative evidence of a season, biannual pattern for divorce.
Is divorce seasonal? Study shows biannual spike in divorce filings
To everything there is a season -- even divorce, new research from University of Washington sociologists concludes.
Female birds call the shots in divorce
Research is shedding new light on the causes of divorce in monogamous year-round territorial birds.
Divorce: On the decline in sub-Saharan Africa
With education, employment and income levels all rising for women in sub-Saharan Africa, many observers have speculated that divorce rates would follow suit -- as they have in much of the developed world.
Divorce rate doesn't go up as families of children with disabilities grow
Couples raising a child with developmental disabilities do not face a higher risk of divorce if they have larger families, according to a new study by researchers from the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Related Divorce Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...