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Author: Richard Middlehurst
The perplexing case last February of the millionaire mushroom farmer is set to become a test case for “ unreasonable behaviour “.
Following a 39 year marriage, an affair by the wife and being separated for two years, the wife’s petition for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour was refused . This was based on the fact that, whilst she was unhappily married, this was not apparently a reason for divorce. The husband was described as “ old school “ (whatever that means ) in his attitude to the marriage and the wife as “over sensitive “.
These were the words of an experienced and respected family judge.
The wife appealed to the Court of Appeal, claiming, amongst other things, her right to family life and presumably her ability to remarry. Her appeal was dismissed much to the wife’s consternation but moreover the popular press who condemned the decision. The court emphasised that their hands were tied and broadly hinted that this should be reviewed, no doubt nodding in the direction of the Supreme Court. The matter is, in fact, due to go before the Supreme Court later this year and there will be much speculation as to how the law will be redefined in this area.
What is extraordinary is how this case has got to where it has. Contested divorces are rare and divorce lawyers have been sensitive to avoiding contentious or inflammatory petitions and the courts have steered through the paradox of emphasising no blame, in a procedure which in the main requires it to be cast in one direction.
Attempts at “no fault “ divorce have floundered in the past and there is no doubt that the debate will be reopened. Could this case lead to a change in the law? Maybe, but will it be worth it?