Election 2019 home

Vote to make divorce less traumatic - Poll just days away

The Central Statistics Office has shown we are in the middle of the Irish wedding season. May and June’s top-of-the-cycle hotel rates confirm this often in an eye-wateringly expensive way. 

The CSO also shows we wait longer to get married — if we decide to do so at all. The age of those tying the knot reached a record high last year. The grooms and brides of 2018 were, on average, 36.4 years old and 34.4 years old respectively. That fewer than half of marriages took place under the umbrella of the Catholic Church is another significant milestone. 

There were 21,053 marriages, almost 1,000 fewer than in 2017. Though 87.2% of mixed-sex marriages were the first for both parties, 2,440 involved a divorced person and in 568 cases both had been married previously.

Though a wedding is a starting point, many parents of a groom or a bride may take a moment before a son or a daughter’s wedding to remember on their own wedding day. 

Those who married in 1995, when Ireland voted by a tiny margin — 50.3% — to introduce divorce, did so against a background that at this remove seems as hysterical as it was dishonest. 

“Hello Divorce, Goodbye Daddy” and “Divorce Aborts Marriage” were just two of the arguments offered by those opposed to any kind of divorce. It is not an exaggeration to say that some farmers, custodians of land that had been in their family for generations, were traumatised by the possibility that “she” might take half of it if “she fell out with the young fella”. 

This paranoia, this vulnerability, was shamelessly and dishonestly exploited by conservative forces.

We have, it seems, avoided that social armageddon. 

According to Eurostat, we have one of the lowest divorce rates in Europe, much lower than the UK. Our crude divorce rate is 0.6 a year for every 1,000 people compared with 1.9 for the UK and 3.2 for the US. 

Even if that figure is incomplete, even if it was doubled if all separated couples divorced, it bears no resemblance to the fear-mongering of 1995. Our rate is exceptionally low. 

Another method of calculating rates shows that the rate is still high in America at 53%. But Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, and Hungary have rates above 60%. Belgium has the highest rate at a staggering 70%.

In less than two weeks, we will have an opportunity to vote to allow the Oireachtas to amend divorce legislation which is, by international standards, very restrictive. 

Today, those who wish to divorce must live apart for four of the previous five years. 

This forces those who wish to divorce to remain married far longer than they would wish. Many couples caught in that trap that almost seems a socially-endorsed punishment seek a judicial separation years before being divorced — one factor that makes the tragedy of marriage breakdown so very expensive, financially and emotionally.

Recent referenda suggest these issues have been settled but that presumption is unwise. Change cannot be taken for granted, we must vote for it. 

This change is necessary and it should be delivered so the trauma of divorce is at least minimised. Our laws must reflect the way we live today, not as we did when some people actually believed that “Hello Divorce, Goodbye Daddy” was a valid argument.

More on this topic

Voting underway in local and European elections

Green energy and electoral areas hold key to Kerry elections

UK parties await fate as European polls close

PSNI face ‘orchestrated disorder’ near polling station in Derry