Definition of adultery again

Mark Liberman of the Language Log takes me to task in the nicest possible way for not expressing myself clearly.

Let me explain ‘unreasonable behaviour’ again. It is a misnomer, a false abbreviation. Here are the facts on which a divorce petition can be based in England and Wales. This is the second:

bq. That the other party to the marriage (the respondent) has:
(b) behaved in such a way that the other party (the petitioner) cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent.
Behaviour during the marriage may involve one major incident or a series of acts, the cumulative effect of which is considered to be unreasonable in the eyes of the court.

This is called ‘unreasonable behaviour’ for short, but that’s misleading. The behaviour of the respondent does not have to be found to be unreasonable: what is required is that the behaviour of the respondent is such that the petitioner (this particular petitioner) cannot reasonable be expected to live with the respondent. And a homosexual relationship would fit the definition.

Of course, there is a lot of mudslinging with this b), although the idea is supposed to be that it’s not a question of fault, just a question of proving the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Language Log:

bq. This is a curious bit of adjectival semantics: a homosexual relationship is “not actually unreasonable [behavior]”, but would be construed as “unreasonable behavior” for the purposes of a divorce case. Is this just because the legal definition is not the ordinary language definition? Or is it because reasonableness is always relative to an evaluator and a situation? Some behavior can seem reasonable to me and not to you, or reasonable in the shower and distinctly eccentric in the grocery store; and the two dimensions interact, so that you and I might have quite different ideas of what is reasonable in a grocery store. Or in a marriage.

It’s not a question of whether it’s reasonable or not, it’s a question of whether it’s tolerable or not (it translates very well into German as unzumutbares Verhalten). The problem is, they needed a short term to refer to it. Perhaps it should have been called ‘unputuppable with behaviour’.

About the title reference to ‘U.S. divorce law’, well, there’s no such thing, but the case itself referred to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and New Jersey for a different approach, or at least the dissenting opinion did, so I was wondering about the disagreements within the U.S.A. At least, that’s my story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.