Legal body calls for overhaul of Ireland's divorce regime

The Law Society of Ireland has called for a substantial overhaul of Ireland's divorce regime.

Legal body calls for overhaul of Ireland's divorce regime

The Law Society of Ireland has called for a substantial overhaul of Ireland's divorce regime.

The legal body has also confirmed that it is backing a 'yes' vote in the upcoming divorce referendum, supporting government proposals to remove the minimum living-apart period for spouses from the constitution.

Presently, couples must be living apart for four out of the last five years before divorce proceedings can be initiated. A yes vote would see that condition removed from the constitution and allow the Oireachtas to set a new limit. If passed, the Government plans to reduce the waiting time to two years.

The referendum is being held on May 24, the same day as the local and European elections.

The Law Society made its announcement at the launch of 'Divorce in Ireland: the Case for Reform', a report on divorce in Ireland in the last two decades. The legal body examined divorce cases in courts in Dublin and Cork and found that the majority of parties were seeking divorce as soon as they legally could.

In its report, the Law Society made 11 recommendations to transform divorce law in Ireland.

These include that a specialised family court structure be established to ease the burden on the existing courts system and to provide better support to those going through proceedings. It also calls for the establishment of strict definitions of "living apart" and states that provisions for "clean break" divorces should be put in place, meaning that, where appropriate, former spouses would no longer have any financial ties after the order is given by the court.

The society also believes that a review of maintenance issues needs to be prioritised and that the law should be reviewed to allow for the development of pre-nuptial agreements that are valid and enforceable.

It states that a coherent framework for the recognition of foreign divorces is required, while it also calls for alternative methods of dispute resolution to be promoted and facilitated.

Law Society of Ireland president Patrick Dorgan described the introduction of divorce in 1995 as a watershed in Irish legal and social history.

But he said the Divorce Act, in particular the living apart requirement before proceedings could start, had given rise to difficulties and uncertainties.

Report author Dr Geoffrey Shannon said: "Divorce has now been in operation in Ireland for over two decades. During that time Ireland has witnessed radical change that has resulted in a more secular, more modern and less traditional society.

While each case is unique, the current requirement to live apart for a period of four years prior to the institution of divorce proceedings may now be considered too long. It may result in a duplication of legal expenses and protracted proceedings, where parties are involved in both judicial separation and divorce proceedings over time.

According to the Central Statistics Office, the number of divorced people in the State has increased from 35,100 in 2002 to 103,895 in 2016.

Culture minister Josepha Madigan said the government is not being complacent about passing the referendum. "No one should be under any illusion the Government is not going to pull hard on their referendum," she said.

"The posters are going up this weekend. There's no complacency; it's launching on May 6. We had a meeting of the inner campaign team, and we have a lot of events coming up so today was one example. No absolutely, there's no complacency about it."

Additional reporting by Fiachra O'Cionnaith

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