The Number One Reason for Divorce

Marriages break down for a number of different reasons. However, over the course of the last twenty years at least, individuals and organisations involved in relationship counselling and divorce practitioners have seen increased numbers of couples coming to them for help over their relationships.  Does that mean that relationships are more difficult now than they were some twenty years or more ago, are there more stresses on individuals, or have we become a society where we do rely on others to help us with relationships?

Going through a relationship breakdown which may lead to divorce, can be emotionally disruptive and upsetting as well as being incredibly expensive.  If therefore makes sense that couples will do what they can to avoid going through this. Some marriages can be saved, some might be saved for a while and others are hopeless.  Not all marriages or relationships can be saved and we have seen a huge rise in the numbers of people who are living together as opposed to marrying and whose relationships are three times more likely to breakdown.

Whilst we have suggested that there are many reasons why relationships can break down there are discernible patterns in many cases.  This has led us to believe that we can form, a ‘top 5’, where certainly many marriages will fit into a certain category of relationship break down.  We have gathered this information from other divorce practitioners, marriage counsellors and therapists over a number of years.


  1. Infidelity

Infidelity can cover a multitude of actions from kissing, to be found on the internet speaking with other parties of the opposite sex and adultery.  The definition of adultery in the UK courts is very specific, and many might argue – outdated. We have referred to the issue of adultery and what qualifies for this category in divorce here, but the fact is that the definition of adultery means that you must have been found to have had sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex, outside of marriage.  There must be some form of penetration involved.  Admission of adultery of sexual intercourse is of course enough as well to formulate such a petition.

Not all marriages end after an act of infidelity on the part of either party.  Whilst many spouses consider it the final straw in an already imperfect marriage there are some couples  who can get over the fact of the infidelity or adultery because they recognise that it is an indicator of a much deeper problem, and one which they are prepared to work through together.

We have also discovered that if one of the parties come from a fragile background, is lacking in confidence or has a history of their own parents’ infidelity they are much less likely to tolerate this.  If a marriage is built on a very strong foundation and there is an acceptance by the injured party that the act of infidelity was out of boredom and not with an intention of leaving them, then they may be prepared to move forward.    What we have also discovered is that some parties who have been profoundly wounded by the act of infidelity may never forgive their partner. Even though they may mouth the words sometimes they descend into what we have described as the ‘punishment zone’ for ever punishing their partner in various different ways for what they have discovered.  If they enter into that zone, then the marriage will undoubtedly unravel in due course.  Accordingly, we would confirm that infidelity in any form can lead to divorce and is wholly dependent on the tolerance level of the injured party.  Infidelity or adultery has been cited in many cases and has risen profoundly over the last twenty years as the ground of choice out of the fault-based divorce system that we still have in this country.   Because parties have to fit into quite tight categories because of the fault-based system that exists in this country whereby parties have to demonstrate that the marriage has irretrievably broken down based on the following five facts have to made out namely: –

  • That the Respondent has committed adultery and the Petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the Respondent.
  • The Respondent has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonable be expected to live with the Respondent.
  • The Respondent has deserted the Petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years as is preceding the presentation of this Petition
  • The parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the representation of the Petition and the Respondent consents to a decree being granted.
  • The parties to a marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the presentation of the Petition.

As can be seen, these are very limited facts on which a Petition can be based and accordingly the favourite choice is infidelity/adultery from our statistics and those gathered from the Office of National Statistics.


  1. Behaviour and/or Domestic Abuse

Unreasonable behaviour is the second most utilised fact on which people issue petitions according to the Office of National Statistics.  This can cover a multitude of behaviour but since it is what we call a subjective test ie what the sufferer finds to be unreasonable, it has resulted in a numerous amount of different kinds of allegations of behaviour ranging from the mildest to the most extreme.

We are often asked to explain what is unreasonable behaviour but the definition is quite clear as set out above.  It is what the person suffering from the behaviour finds to be unreasonable.   In some cases practitioners would prefer to put in mild allegations to avoid what is known as a “contested petition”.  It is in fact the case that a whole spate of very mild petitions were put into court for some considerable time, for exactly this reason and based upon the fact that we were advised that the law was going to change to abolish fault based divorce so that there would effectively be divorce by consent.   This has still has not happened.

As a result of a case that went before the courts some eighteen months ago where a wife was denied her petition based on unreasonable behaviour since the Judge felt that this was behaviour suffered by most people around the country and therefore something that he was not prepared to allow to go through in a petition.  As a consequence, there were have been  many petitions that have been made far harsher in content awaiting the change in law.   Accordingly, allegations of behaviour have, as a consequence, become more extreme.  Milder petitions will be in the form of a complaint that the parties have been left to feel alone and abandoned within the marriage or not receiving sufficient emotional or physical support or that there is a lack of sexual intercourse between the parties, which has continued for some time.  The more severe allegations relate to allegations of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse can refer to a slap, a knee being pushed into someone, or being grabbed around parts of the body.  It can also include mental abuse, being shouted at, or the partner coming up to them and invading their space in a very threatening manner or a multiple of incidents which added together are intimidating and threatening.

Domestic abuse be it physical or emotional can not only be grounds for divorce but can also amount to a crime.  What many practitioners find is that there can have been many incidents of domestic abuse which can exacerbate in seriousness over a period of time much of which has never been reported either to a doctor, hospital or the police because of the fear by the victim that this will make matter far worse.  Some have indicated that they have not complained about it because they are fearful that their partner may lose their job which will have an impact on them and the children, or that their children might have to leave their schools if the finances will not support it.  Whatever the reason, domestic abuse must be recognised at a very early stage and making excuses for a partner lashing out is one of the first signs of an abused victim.

As far as divorces are concerned, domestic abuse has certainly increased dramatically and this is because there is now a recognition and acceptance by both men and women who have been abused that this is not conduct that should be tolerated.  There are cases where if the perpetrator recognises that they have anger management issues or a severe problem that must be addressed then the marriage or relationship might be saved.  If however, they are not prepared to accept or admit that their actions amount to abuse, then the relationship is likely to come to an end.  In any abuse scenario from our experience of dealing with literally thousands of such cases, there needs to be two elements and an abuser and a victim.

  1. Financial Concerns

The third issue that is often raised as a reason for the marriage or relationship to come to an end is issues over finance.  This can be turned into an accusation of unreasonable behaviour if one of the parties considers that the other is either: –

  • Overspending in a manner that is not supported by the parties’ financial position; or
  • Is not pulling their weight in terms of making a financial contribution; or
  • Dissipated the monies by either gambling or wasting it on other activities that do not benefit the other party.

For some people the financial concerns can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but it is often part of the problems that lead to the end of the marriage although it might not be the main issue or problem in the marriage itself.  There is an expression that is often used that when money goes out door, so does the partner and it is true that in many cases whilst the parties are financial stable and can afford the luxuries of holidays and anything they desire, the marriage seems to be in tact but when the money disappears if there is a successful business that goes wrong, then the rows between the parties can exacerbate and things that might have only irritated to a small degree earlier on, can then become the focus of arguments that lead to the end of the marriage.

The money problems are usually just the spark that lights the fuse to end the marriage. Money worries can in many cases cause stress and tension, and the marriages can unravel very quickly if these are not addressed. Often, we hear that a husband has hidden the fact that there are financial worries as they consider that this is not very manly.  Pride can result in much more than a fall.  It can create fear and a compete atmosphere of mistrust which can lead to a very costly divorce.

Failure to communicate at the very first sign of financial trouble can mean that the arguments will continue and the situation will grow much worse until the other partner decides to end the marriage.

We have advised on many occasions when clients come to see us with the onset of money worries, that perhaps they should seek advice from a debt organisation or an accountant to re-appraise their finances so that they can come up with an alternative solution to divorce or relationship breakdown.

  1. Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can be a major factor in an allegation of unreasonable behaviour.  Drugs or alcohol abuse can change a personality to the extent that the person someone married is an entirely different character. Moreover, if the issues are not addressed at an early stage the victim of the behaviour can believe that there is no way back to resurrecting the relationship.

Substance abuse is a major reason why people divorce.  We often find that substance abuse such as drugs or alcohol goes hand in hand with other addictions such as gambling and sex addiction.  The addictive person can, in our opinion become so singularly focused that the marriage, their wife and their children become entirely secondary in their eyes. Communication breaks down, and the person concerned can become incredibly abusive when challenged over their addiction.

In some cases, wives or husbands with an addicted partner, will try to get help for the person they love, some will become very involved and attend meetings with them or work together with a counsellor and truly assist their partner of the road to recovery. Others however, will not take this step.

Helping an addict go through recovery is mentally and emotionally exhausting, and is not for the faint hearted.  Some people have to face the fact that they simply are not up to the challenge or they have something in their background that prevents from them from wishing to undertake this task.  This is not an act of failure but one of the ability to come with such fragility in the other partner that is not what they signed up for when they got married or started cohabitation.

Sex addition was exceedingly prevalent in many cases during the last two years in particular, and because of the explosion in internet dating and the ability to find sexual encounters on the internet this form of conduct has increased.

  1. Communication

The lack of communication is one of the most common reasons found in divorce cases around the world.  Many cite unreasonable behaviour in countries where such grounds for divorce exist, but it does form the basis of many complaints where marriages have broken down and is something that is regularly referred to in therapy sessions.

In some cases, a marriage can be saved by working through the issues together with the help of a therapist, relationship counsellor or in some cases a psychiatrist.  If both parties accept that they need to work on how they communicate, then their relationship can be saved.  If however there is a fundamental issue by one of the parties in how they communicate, then it may well lead to the end of the relationship.

When some clients come to us it becomes apparent where they are failing to communicate, we will refer them to expert specialists to assist.  In some cases this has resulted in a reconciliation between the parties who have gone on to lead very happy and successful marriages.  In others, where is an absolute intractability in the way that they communicate, the marriages have ended.  Couples idea of communication can vary vastly and is very much dependent on the background that the parties came from.  Some like to talk out all of the issues together with a third party and if that is the case, if they both wish to do the same thing, then the relationship will work.  Others, do not feel the need to ever discuss their worries or how they feel to discuss their difficulties with a third party coming from what we regard as stoical families.  If you put a stoical partner with one that wishes to discuss every issue this can form the basis for immediate conflict.    It is only if the parties recognise the difference in their backgrounds that these issues can be successfully addressed.

These therefore rank as our top 5 items that can lead to divorce.  Within those categories there can be many sub-levels but if you are finding that there is a combination of these in your household then it is time to address them, rather than addressing them before the law courts.

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