What are some examples of unreasonable behaviour for divorce?
Unreasonable behaviour is one of the 5 available facts to prove the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. “Unreasonable behaviour” was relied on in more than 50% of divorces in 2016. This article briefly explains what the courts will look at regarding the unreasonable behaviour fact and then explores a few categories of unreasonable behaviour that have been used before.
What is the test for unreasonable behaviour?
The courts have held that the test for unreasonable behaviour is an objective one that, at the same time, accounts for the subjective characteristics and personality of the spouse that seeks to rely on unreasonable behaviour (also known as the “plaintiff” in proceedings). . The main issue that the courts are interested in is whether it is reasonable to expect the plaintiff to continue living with his/her spouse (also known as the “defendant” in proceedings) in light of the behaviour that has been submitted to the court. This broad test places emphasis on the individual and cumulative impact of the behaviour on the plaintiff and the marriage. As such, the reasons for the behaviour generally do not bear much weight. In light of the breadth of the court’s inquiry, what behaviour can be cited as examples of unreasonable behaviour? Here are 4 categories of behaviour that may be considered unreasonable behaviour.
1. Domestic abuse
Domestic abuse is a classic case of unreasonable behaviour. The court takes allegations of abuse seriously and are sensitive to the fact that domestic abuse can take place in many ways such as physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, verbal abuse and even sexual abuse. In the case of verbal abuse, the mere occurrence of quarrels may be insufficient to constitute unreasonable behaviour as the occasional quarrel is common to every other marriage. However, verbal abuse may be shown if these quarrels are frequent, severe (e.g. screaming, use of vulgarities), and/or take place for no good reason. In cases of physical abuse or sexual abuse, it may be useful to gather any police or medical reports arising out of the incident(s) to corroborate the account of the abuse. If you or your children are a victim of domestic abuse, you may also explore applying for a Personal Protection Order (PPO) for yourself or on your children’s behalf to ensure your safety before and/or during any divorce proceedings. A PPO will be granted by the Family Justice Courts if it is established that an act of family violence has been committed and it is necessary to prevent any further incidents of family violence. You may apply for a PPO at a Family Violence Specialist Centre or the Family Protection Centre at the Family Justice Courts.
Engagement in vice can be considered unreasonable behaviour as such behaviour often harms not only the person engaging in vice but also his/her close family, including their spouse and children. For example, compulsive drinking is expensive, unhealthy and may even cause anti-social behaviours in public and at home, causing much inconvenience and embarrassment to the plaintiff. In a second example, frequent gambling is likely to drain the family’s financial resources, where it may become more difficult to meet the household expenses.
3. Improper associations or extramarital affairs
Improper associations with any third party outside the marriage may be used as unreasonable behaviour. While such cases often involve some degree of sexual indiscretion, “emotional affairs” that do not involve any sex are not unheard of. The evidential threshold for such improper associations to show unreasonable behaviour is not as stringent as for the fact of adultery. This means that you do not necessarily have to obtain a private investigator’s report to demonstrate that an affair or any type of improper association has taken place. If you cannot unequivocally show that your spouse has engaged in sex with a party outside the marriage in fulfilment of the adultery fact, you may consider filing for a divorce using the unreasonable behaviour fact and refer to your spouse’s adultery as an instance of your spouse’s unreasonable behaviour instead.
4. Lack of care and concern
There is a large range of behaviour that may be cited as unreasonable behaviour which has to do with a failure by the Defendant to show adequate care and concern, in ways that may be reasonably expected of him/her. Examples include:
- Lack of care or concern for the plaintiff (i.e., the defendant’s spouse): failing to communicate or be accountable with the plaintiff, failing to show any interest in the plaintiff’s life, failing to show care or affection towards the plaintiff;
- Lack of care or concern for the children of the marriage: failing to take care of or bond with the children (especially in their formative years), failing to act in the children’s best interest;
- Lack of care or concern for the family: returning home late and failing to spend any meaningful time with the plaintiff and the children as a family unit; and
- Lack of care or concern for the household: failing to contribute financially towards living expenses, failing to provide an allowance for a homemaker spouse, failing to do basic chores or cleaning up.
Is there any time limit for starting divorce proceedings based on unreasonable behaviour?
The law aims to encourage reconciliation between parties and continuity of marriage. As such, the law provides a 6-month window so that parties may try to work out their differences in light of the unreasonable behaviour. If one party decides to file for divorce within 6 months, the court will disregard the period of time that parties continued to live together after the unreasonable behaviour had taken place. However, if the parties had continued living together for more than 6 months, the unreasonable behaviour may be seen as having been accepted and you cannot cite that behaviour as unreasonable behaviour on its own when filing for divorce. To establish that you and your spouse have stopped living together, you should take care to stop any behaviour that may be associated with a married couple, such as going on dates and sleeping in the same bed. While it is common that one party moves out of the matrimonial home, this is not strictly required and living apart can be shown just as clearly by parties living in separate bedrooms.
Links: Singstat survey for 2016 divorce figures: https://www.singstat.gov.sg/-/media/files/publications/population/smd2016.pdf (page 17)
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