As a top judge calls for the introduction of no-fault divorces, Vanessa Lloyd Platt says British laws are old fashioned and magnify the pain of separation
This week a woman who was divorced by her husband after 20 years highlighted how “normal squabbling” can get cited in cases. Susan Rae said that her husband complained in court that she had thrown his packed lunches away and taken a fuse out of the washing machine.
One of the examples of unreasonable behaviour that comes up a lot is that the respondent “failed throughout the marriage to help with any household chores, treating the petitioner as if she were a complete drudge”. Another popular one is: “The respondent, without just cause, refused to speak to the petitioner’s mother (his mother-in-law) to the absolute distress of the petitioner.”
We get a lot of allegations that a spouse’s excessive snoring has caused sleep deprivation and he (or she) has failed to take any reasonable steps to deal with the problem. Or we hear that “the respondent withdrew intimate marital relations from the petitioner for a period in excess of five years”.
One case cited behaviour that was probably familiar to millions of people and hardly seemed grounds for divorce. “The respondent husband repeatedly took charge of the remote television controller, endlessly flicking through television channels and failing to stop at any channel requested by the petitioner, further compounding her distress by claiming justification for his behaviour that it was ‘a man thing’.”
Personal habits are documented in excruciating detail. Take the man who “on occasions too frequent to particularise each, expelled flatulence in lifts, cars and other enclosed spaces which she felt to be repugnant. The respondent’s refusal to modify his diet in any form was in total disregard for the petitioner’s natural feelings of abhorrence.”
Details of people’s sex lives, or lack of them, are there in black and white. “The respondent wife would without justification flirt with any builder or tradesman, inappropriately touching them and declaring that she could not stop herself.”
One petition said: “The respondent is unreasonably demanding sex every night from the petitioner, which is causing friction between the parties.”
Again, we can snigger at this. But is it right that a person undergoing the trauma of divorce should be subjected to this sort of indignity?
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