Two-year wait for separation court cases

CONTESTED family law cases are taking up to two years to hear in some court districts, information from court services has shown.

Waiting lists have revealed that eight court districts have waiting times of at least one year, while in Wexford and Clonmel divorce and judicial separation cases are taking up to two years to be heard.

Other black spots include Mullingar, where the backlog is 12-18 months, and Trim, Roscommon, Dundalk, Cavan, Waterford, all of which have waiting times of 12 months.

Family law specialist Marion Campbell said there was a “huge volume of cases” waiting to be heard and that there were not enough sittings to deal with them.

Ms Campbell said while the family law court in Dublin sits every day and has three judges, “waiting lists down the country are through the roof”.

“And the circuit court is seeing a huge volume of cases because of the fall-off from the High Court – people can no longer afford to run a case in the High Court.”

It is only possible to seek a divorce when a couple has been living separately for four years.

In the majority of cases, people who choose the route of judicial separation and court orders do so because they are unable to agree issues involving the custody and care of children, maintenance for the children, the family home and property, and so seek a court order to enforce their rights.

Last year, there were almost 2,000 applications for judicial separation in the circuit court and more than 4,000 applications for divorce.

Ms Campbell said in the current climate people were putting off separation as they simply could not afford it.

“Judges are now ordering that the family home not be sold maybe for two years, or until the children are finished education. They are deferring sales. But one or other has to leave the home, so usually the husband is forced to rent,” she said.

“Lump-sum payments are now coming in installments, there is less money to pay the mortgage and for maintenance and it is all having a ripple effect,” she said.

Ms Campbell said while judges are trying to be sympathetic to both parties, it was difficult. “I have heard of cases where the family home has been physically split. Couples are in the same house but leading completely separate lives. This has very serious implications for the children.”

Another issue arising is that traditionally lawyers would have their fees paid by the sale of the home. Ms Campbell said there was “deep concern” among family lawyers about fees.

“We are having to ask for retainers now. You do not want to hit someone with a bill they cannot afford in a year or two.

“The first question people are asking is how much? It can cost in region of €10k-€20k, and that does not cover the barrister.”

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