Booze and Behaviour: Wives’ Drinking Ending More Marriages 

Published on 21 March, 2017 | Laura Guillon

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After what must have seemed like countless generations of stability, the last few decades have wrought undeniable change on British households.

The very concept of homes comprising a husband, wife and two children has become a stereotype found more often in drama than reality.

Since the mid-1990s, in particular, the shift in domestic life has accelerated – in how domestic relationships are formed, maintained and break down.

Whilst some patterns, such as the increases in cohabitation and so-called ‘silver splits’, have been pronounced, other developments have attracted considerably less attention, even though they have no little impact of their own.

For instance, even though the number of divorces in England and Wales is in decline, those accounted for by allegations of unreasonable behaviour continues to grow. In fact, they are at the heart of just under half of all marital collapses (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2014).

Even within that broad pattern, though, there is movement, especially in relation to whose behaviour is considered unreasonable.

Three per cent fewer women now cite men’s conduct as being to blame than five years ago, whereas three per cent more men have been granted divorce because of their wives’ behaviour over the same period.

In my experience and that of my colleagues at Hall Brown Family Law, some of that difference can be put down to the effect of alcohol.

One-third of all the divorces which we deal with involving claims of unreasonable behaviour feature suggestions that women’s drinking is at the root of a couple’s arguments.

Of course, problem drinking is not unusual. However, such accusations have been levelled at husbands more often than not. They have even occasionally been regarded as so severe as to impact on the nature of divorce settlements.

Only last year, one ex-wife was awarded more than half of her husband’s £13.6 million fortune after a court heard that he’d blown six-figure sums each year on drink, drugs and prostitutes (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/12164390/Francoise-Rapp.html).

It is true to say that more men than women are still blamed for having an issue with the demon drink.

Even so, I’ve been speaking to both the Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4325930/One-seven-divorces-linked-heavy-drinking-wives.html) and BBC Radio Four’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08j99bf) about how what we are seeing is significant because it represents double the proportion which we were seeing only three years ago.

In many cases, the greater professional momentum enjoyed by women has been cited as offering more opportunities for drinking at business lunches or while networking with clients.

Most husbands appear reluctant to draw attention to their wives’ problems because they regard problem drinking as an illness and want their partners to get help.

One notable factor in pushing drink-fuelled disagreements to the point of divorce is children. The sort of behaviour which both individuals might have found okay when they were young becomes unacceptable when they become parents.

That harder attitude is – interestingly – reinforced by mothers-in-law who object to drinking potentially compromising the well-being of grandchildren.

I should point out that very few of the cases that we have handled involve women who might be described as alcoholic but, even without that degree of difficulty, the ability of drink to erode the fabric of a marriage is no small matter of concern.

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