At least two national newspapers have reported this week of a poll indicating that three in ten divorcing couples exaggerate faults in their marriage, in order to get a quicker divorce. This includes people exaggerating the ‘unreasonable behaviour’ of their spouse, and also lying both about adultery and about how long they have lived separately from their spouse.
The poll doesn’t really tell us anything new, but it comes hard on the heels of the Owens case, in which the Supreme Court confirmed that Tini Owens was not entitled to a divorce on the basis of her husband’s ‘unreasonable behaviour’. It is feared that the decision may lead to divorce petitions based upon behaviour having to include much stronger allegations in order to get a divorce, which could in turn increase animosity and make it less likely that divorcing couples will be able to agree arrangements over children and finances.
The Owens case led to an increase in calls for the introduction of a system of no-fault divorce, and the poll can only add to those calls.
But is it really necessary to exaggerate or lie, and what might happen if you do?
It is not yet clear whether the Owens case will actually make any difference to the way in which judges look at behaviour petitions. It may be that most judges will still take the pragmatic view that there is no point in the law prolonging an unhappy marriage. And there is always of course the possibility of waiting for two years’ separation if your spouse consents to the divorce, or five years’ separation if they do not. (For further details of the ground for divorce, see this post.)
But if you do lie to the court then there could be very serious consequences if you are found out, in addition to you being denied a divorce. In the course of the proceedings the person seeking a divorce will have to sign a statement of truth, confirming that everything they said in their divorce petition was true. At the end of the statement is this warning:
“Proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against a person who makes or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth.”
In fact, we think that making a false statement technically amounts to perjury, rather than contempt of court. Either way, the possible consequences are serious, including committal to prison. Obviously, we would always advise people against lying to the court, whether about adultery, the other party’s behaviour or how long they have lived apart, even if this means that they will not be able to get their divorce as quickly as they had hoped.
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