Finding “Fault” in the (Silly) Little Annoyances.

Unlike in the U.S., where “no fault” divorces are now standard in every state, family courts in England still require a finding of spousal misconduct before a divorce will be granted.  Along with adultery or abandonment, an aggrieved spouse may cite “unreasonable behavior” as the grounds for divorce.  According to some lawyers there, this often means that divorcing parties have to exaggerate the daily annoyances of marriage in order to meet the requirement.

An article published in the New York Times last week highlights some of the more ridiculous accusations made in English divorce cases.  They run the gamut from failing to share the remote control to insisting that a pet tarantula sleep in the marital bedroom.

Vanessa Lloyd Platt, an English family law attorney interviewed by the Times, calls the phenomenon “insane” and argues that such accusations should have no place in divorce litigation. She recalls the difficulty she had maintaining a straight face while championing her client’s complaint that her husband wore her clothes and was “stretching out all of her best outfits.”

Ms. Lloyd Platt is not alone in her criticisms. The Times notes that an English family law judge recently argued that there is “no need” for the requirement, which represents “the social values of a bygone age.”  Naturally, the judge’s critique was set forth in a ruling on a divorce in which the husband alleged that the wife repeatedly threw away the husband’s cold cuts (the wife countered said allegation by citing the husband’s failure to appreciate her disdain for “intensely farmed meats”).  Ms. Platt, and other prominent family law attorneys and judges, are now campaigning for reform.

The government considered changing the law back in 1996, but dropped reform efforts due to concerns that a “no fault” standard would make divorce too easy.  One advocate for change says these concerns are misplaced, as a “no fault” system simply takes some of the vitriol out of divorce litigation.  However, a government spokeswoman informed the Times that there are currently no plans to reform English divorce laws.

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