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fifty shades of grey

Richard Scott, one of our Partner Solicitors, offers his views on why the best selling book is causing waves in the world of family law...

It must be every married man’s dream, a wife who likes sex, lots of it and for there to be an element of adventure in the bedroom. Well not necessarily so chaps. In the 21st century standards are high and if you don’t step up to the mark you could find yourself being traded in for a younger and better model.

Recently, in an interesting case which was well publicised in the national newspapers, a wife sought a divorce from her husband in the High Court after reading the recently popular series of novels called “Fifty Shades of Grey”. After reading the ‘colourful and descriptive content’, the wife in this particular case drew the conclusion that her husband was sexually inadequate after he refused to spice up their love life by re-creating some of scenes in the books. She successfully divorced him for this kind of unreasonable behaviour and actually referred to extracts of the books in the divorce particulars.   

How can this be? Is this fair? And for those yet to read the best-selling books, what is this Fifty Shades of Grey anyway and should we care? Well the answer is possibly - yes.

Before partners begin to panic and explore how they can brush up on technique to make sure that they don’t fall into this humiliating trap, rest assured, there isn’t a new solitary ground for divorce called “sexual inadequacy” or being “boring in the bedroom”. The five grounds for divorce in England & Wales remain the same, namely –

(a) adultery;

(b) unreasonable behaviour;

(c) desertion; 

(d) separation for 2 years with consent and;

(e) separation for 5 years without consent.

These grounds for divorce haven’t changed for decades and have been enshrined in our legal system as a cornerstone of Family Law in England & Wales since being defined as the five main grounds for divorce by the Matrimonial Causes Act way back in 1973. 

However what the “Fifty Shades case” (if I may call it that) highlights is that social attitudes are changing. Previously it was often a common joke that it was always the men who complained of not having enough “action” in the bedroom. Not so anymore. Women are also becoming more vocal and complaining about the lack of sexual appetite and adventure from their spouse’s. In fact women are becoming so intolerant of such behaviour that it is becoming a more common cause for marital breakdown. 

In my day to day practice, unreasonable behaviour remains the most popular ground for divorce, probably accounting for 80 – 90% of all divorce petitions that are prepared. However in recent years, I have noticed a bit of a trend in that many of the Petitioner Wives are now citing their Husband’s low libido, lack of love and affection, lack of intimacy or to be a bit more direct – lack of sex as being one of their main reasons for wanting to end their marriages. 

Perhaps then the “Fifty Shades case” shouldn’t shock us, but it should serve as a timely reminder for married couples that divorce can be an option for both men and women where there are inadequacies of a sexual nature within a marriage and that divorce petitions presented to the court for unreasonable behaviour can be creative, imaginative and unusual and do not have to be confined to, or based upon, more conventional grounds.

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