Britain’s fault clause: Absurd reasons for divorce

People: Under British law,parties have to work out — either amicably or unamicably — who is at fault and why

Written by New York Times | London | Published: April 10, 2012 1:08 am

SARAH LYALL

In her 30-odd years as a divorce lawyer,Vanessa Lloyd Platt has heard it all. The woman who sued for divorce because her husband insisted she dress in a Klingon costume and speak to him in Klingon. The man who declared that his wife had maliciously and repeatedly served him his least favourite dish,tuna casserole.

“It’s insane,” Lloyd Platt said. But they come up all the time in Britain,which unlike the US does not have a no-fault divorce law. In one recent case,the husband accused his wife of spitefully tampering with the TV antenna and throwing his cold cuts. She said he usurped control of the washing machine and failed to appreciate her dislike for “intensely farmed meat.”

As the couple,aired mundane details of their marriage in London’s Court of Appeal,the judge criticised English divorce law for allowing such picayune matters to become an issue at all. If the government had enacted past proposals to allow no-fault divorce,the judge,Justice Matthew Thorpe,said,“there would have been no need for these painful investigations,which seem to represent the social values of a bygone age.”

Under British law,divorces are granted under one of five categories,including adultery and abandonment. About half of the cases fall under a broad category called unreasonable behaviour,in which one party has to accuse the other of acting so unreasonably that living together has become intolerable.

In Britain,few divorce cases go to trial,so the parties have to work out — either amicably or unamicably — who is at fault and why. The reasons,which appear in the papers filed by the person seeking the divorce,have no bearing on eventual financial or custody arrangements,except in extreme cases,lawyers say. But they still have to be approved by a judge.

Liz Edwards,a lawyer who supports conciliatory divorces,said that rather than making divorce too easy,the no-fault option merely removed some acrimony. “Things are not black and white,so making a judgment on who is at fault,even when there’s been something like adultery,is difficult,” she said. One of her clients once told her that his wife hated the way he breathed.

Lloyd Platt compiled a list in The Times of London of some of the odder accusations. In one case,a client complained that her husband was dressing up in her clothes and “stretching all her outfits”. “When the man came in and he was 6-3 — I found that particularly hard to deal with,” she said.

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