Now Coalition considers pre-nup agreement law
The Government is taking the first steps towards bringing in a new law to recognise pre-nuptial agreements for marrying couples, the Irish Independent can reveal.
This week, the High Court decided that a woman is entitled to €18,000 monthly maintenance and two homes worth €3.3m after her "extremely dynamic" businessman husband admitted to repeated and continuing adultery.
However, in future, couples may be able to agree on the potential split of assets before they marry, if Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald finds grounds to bring in pre-nup legislation.
Although no decision has been taken yet on bringing in a new law, the minister has begun investigating what impact pre-nups would have on families.
A "policy analysis" of all the issues involved is under way in the Department of Justice - regularly a precursor towards drawing up legislation.
The move comes as the status of marriage is debated in the same-sex marriage referendum.
An increasing demand for the protection of family assets in the event of marriage failure has pitched two pillars of Irish society on opposing sides.
The Catholic Church is vehemently opposed to 'Hollywood-style' pre-nups on the grounds they would weaken the definition of marriage. But the Irish Farmers' Association wants to protect family farms.
At the moment, pre-nups have no actual legal standing, but can be used as a guide in
the division of estates and other assets in separation cases.
The findings of the analysis will be provided to Ms Fitzgerald.
"The Department of Justice and Equality has begun a policy analysis of this issue, with a view to assessing the implications of such a proposal for families in the context of marital breakdown," a spokesman told the Irish Independent.
The analysis will look at the impact of pre-nups on families and family income.
However, a Catholic Church spokesman warned proposed changes to the law could damage the belief that marriage is for life.
Catholic Communications Office spokesman Martin Long said changes in divorce laws could, in effect, allow couples to set the terms of possible separation before they get married.
"Irish bishops support the institution of marriage as a life-long commitment, where a man and woman choose to commit to each other as husband and wife 'for better, for worse for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part'," he said.
The church cannot support anything which might "undermine" this belief, Mr Long said. He said the impression could be given that marriage is temporary and only for as long as "it worked out" for the couple.
But the issue has emerged as a key issue in farming communities. Some parents are putting increasing pressure on young farmers to sign a pre-nup agreement with their future wife in the hope of protecting the family farm in the event of marriage breakdown.
There is widespread fear the end of a marriage will mean a farm which has been in a family for generations might have to be sold off.
The IFA also believes the great uncertainty surrounding the legal status of pre-nuptial agreements is affecting the transfer in ownership of family farms.
IFA president Eddie Downey said he had recently written to Ms Fitzgerald on the issue.
"There are cases where parents delay transferring ownership to a successor, because of deep worry about the consequences of marriage breakdown," he said.
Legal recognition of pre-nups would go a long way to easing these concerns, he added.
The IFA believes recommendations made by the Study Group on Pre-Nuptial Agreements in 2007 should be implemented. The group proposed that pre-nuptial agreements be legalised through amendments to the Family Law Act 1995 and the Family Law (Divorce) Acts 1996.