Tuesday 25 July 2017

Slashing of waiting time for divorce a step closer

Josepha Madigan. Picture: Tom Burke
Josepha Madigan. Picture: Tom Burke

Cormac McQuinn Political Correspondent

The slashing of the waiting time for divorce from four years to two is a step closer after it passed the committee stage without amendment.

However, the TD who proposed the move, Fine Gael's Josepha Madigan, cautioned against being “overly ambitious” in making further changes to the divorce law.

She said that marriage is “ingrained” in Irish society and suggested it's not yet time to seek to take divorce provisions out of the constitution completely.

She was speaking as the Oireachtas justice committee debated her proposal to cut the number of years that a couple have to be living apart to be eligible for divorce from four to two years.

The change in the law would require a referendum which would be likely to take place some time next year.

Under the constitution courts can only grant a divorce where spouses have lived apart for four years out of the previous five, there’s no reasonable prospect of reconciliation, and proper provision have been made for spouses and children.

Junior Justice minister David Stanton told the committee that government is supporting Ms Madigan’s proposals.

He said that shortening the living apart period will allow couples whose marriages have broken down to “regularise their affairs sooner and reduce the legal costs involved”.

He said the government believes it’s appropriate to examine all provisions of the article of the constitution governing divorce and is open to the removal of the conditions that must be satisfied before a court can grant a divorce.

“This would not be intended to take away regulation of divorce and matters associated with it but it would mean that the conditions for the grant of a divorce would be prescribed by the Oireachtas and not in the constitution,” he said.

He said the government is in the process of drafting amendments to Ms Madigan’s Bill which wil be published at a later date.

Ms Madigan earlier told TDs that for now she’d be in favour of leaving the conditions that don’t relate to the living apart period in the constitution.

She said she believes her Bill is a balance between what she thinks are “fair and reasonable proposals and what I think will be achieved by referendum.”

“We can lose sight of our goals when we are overly ambitious in my view,” she said, while adding she is open to discussion on amendments.

“I’m not sure the Irish people are completely ready for it to be taken out of the constitution” Ms Madigan said arguing that the institution of marriage is “very ingrained”.

She pointed out that the divorce referendum in the 1980s was defeated and that the successful introduction of divorce in the mid 1990s was passed “but only by a whisper.”

Ms Madigan said she qualified as a family law solicitor in 1997, the year divorce came on the statute books.

She said that while she has been “happily married” for 15 years there are “thousands of people out there who go through separation or divorce.”

She said she feels that if she gets her proposal over the line in a referendum it will help those people.

The Bill received cross party support in the Dáil in April and will now go to the Report Stage.

Mr Stanton said the government’s amendments will be ready for that stage in the legislative process.

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said Ms Madigan’s proposals to cut the waiting time is a step forward.

But she also said: “I think most people when they get to the stage of actually going through divorce have been separated or their marriage has been falling apart for a long, long time and I think the stipulation of two years is still too onerous a requirement in allowing people to move on emotionally financially and in many other ways.”

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly said the Bill was “laudable” but said it was “unfortunate” that government amendments weren’t ready to be discussed by the committee.

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