There is a scene in John B Keane’s play ‘The Field’, where the local parish priest is enquiring of the Bull McCabe as to why he is interfering with the sale of the widow’s field.
The Bull replies, ‘It’s my field. It’s my child. I nursed it.
“I nourished it. I saw to its every want. I dug the rocks out of it with my bare hands and I made a living thing of it!
“My only want is that green grass, that lovely green grass, and you want to take it away from me, and in the sight of God, I can’t let you do that!”
The Bull McCabe may have taken his love of the soil to the extreme; however, people can identify with his attachment to land.
Due to our history, we have had a love affair with land for centuries.
Land is sacred, having been passed down from generation to generation.
It is a person’s sense of identity and place.
It is a source of income and pride. It confers status.
However, along with religion, it has been both a source of unity and conflict amongst Irish people.
To lose the farm is a shameful thing, even in these modern times.
Rural Ireland is full of tales based on the dangers of a man walking up the aisle with a farm, and walking back down the aisle with only half a farm.
“She married the land, and asked him to the wedding” may get a laugh out of some people who are enjoying the blissful married life, or the single life, but to a farmer facing divorce proceedings, such a situation can be extremely stressful and worrying.
Divorce in Ireland does not take fault into account.
The role of the court is to divide assets in order to provide financial support for spouses and children, and to reach agreements in relation to custody.
It is not meant to punish either party.
Explore the options.
Dividing the farm is rarely an option, unless the holding is significant, and the smaller holding will rarely be viable to provide an income.
Often, the income from the farm is the only source of income.
A divorce does not automatically mean that the spouse is entitled to half the farm.
The court must ensure that proper provision is made for both parties.
In relation to the family home, it is often located on the farm, where the sheds and outhouses are also located.
Having a former spouse living in the family home on the farm can lead to difficulty, resentment and frustration, especially if another partner moves in.
This should be borne in mind.
Also, if a farmer lives too far away from the farm, he is not in a position to simply walk to the outhouse in the middle of the night to check on the cow that is due to calve.
Where a spouse is departing the family home, because it is not reasonable or practical to remain, the court will usually award an amount to be given to provide alternative accommodation, provided that the remaining spouse has sufficient assets and income to provide this lump sum.
In practical terms, it is very important to be in a position to give the court options.
This means that preliminary work must be done by anyone wishing to hold on to a farm, or a large portion thereof.
Enquiries should be made to see whether or not a mortgage can be raised.
Alternatively, enquiries should be made as to whether a portion of the lands can be sold without affecting the operation of the farm to an excessive extent.
Enquiries can also be made of the planning authorities to determine whether planning permission would be granted for sites.
The more work that is done by the parties in advance of the court hearing, the greater the number of options available to the court.
Parties should not arrive to court expecting the judge to solve their problems, and if no options are presented to the court, it is more likely that an order for part or all of the farm will be made.
As assets go, agricultural land is unique, in that it has huge capital value but only a very limited earning capacity.
There is no divorce formula for what should happen to a farm.
But any valuable asset is bound to generate anger, jealousy and bitterness.
As long as a family has land, there is always a fear of losing it.
When facing marital breakdown, there is no ‘one size fits all solution’ but a distressing time can be made less stressful by who you consult, and how you approach it.
Karen Walsh, from a farming background at Grenagh, Co Cork, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths, 17, South Mall, Cork.
Telephone: 021-4270200 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.walshandpartners.ie While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information contained in this article, solicitor Karen Walsh does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising, and you should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.
Reminder: final opportunity to book your place at next week’s Farming Law & Tax Conference.