Tuesday 25 October 2016

Waiting four years before remarrying is a good idea

Separating or divorcing couples should not be in any great hurry to walk down that aisle again, writes Carol Hunt

Published 03/07/2016 | 02:30

FALSE PROPHETS: ‘No’ campaigners in the referendum 20 years argued that family life would be destroyed by divorce as men walked out on their wives. This simply did not happen. Photo: RollingNews.ie
FALSE PROPHETS: ‘No’ campaigners in the referendum 20 years argued that family life would be destroyed by divorce as men walked out on their wives. This simply did not happen. Photo: RollingNews.ie

It was the day after November 24, 1995, that I finally got the courage to say "I will". The divorce referendum had been passed, albeit by a very slim margin, and within months couples in Ireland would finally have a 'get-out clause' when they agreed to stay together "for better for worse, in sickness and in health" and whatever other promises they made in front of the altar.

  • Go To

Myself and the current Mr Hunt married in 1996. I told him I could safely agree to do so, knowing there was legislation now in place which could undo the whole process, just in case either of us got buyer's remorse at some later stage.

Don't get me wrong. I'm as romantic as the next person, but human nature being what it is, I could never understand why people, no matter how much in love, could agree to embroil themselves in a relationship till death did them part. We all make mistakes and a lifetime of misery was a very great punishment to have to live with if you found out the person you married wasn't quite the perfect partner for life that you'd been hoping for. People change over time, as do circumstances, our laws needed to reflect that.

Of course, Ireland being Ireland, we had to ensure that a hefty punishment was involved for those who made a wrong choice and a four-year wait was introduced between separation and divorce, just to make sure both parties had sufficient time to change your mind - because we all know how lightly some flibbertigibbets take the whole matrimonial process.

It was very much an Irish solution to an Irish problem; we would allow warring or unhappy couples to divorce, but, to paraphrase St Augustine, just not yet.

Of course, the usual naysayers came out in force.

The same groups who had pushed for and promoted the disastrous 1983 abortion referendum and opposed the introduction of contraception tried to resist the inevitable.

Posters littered the countryside saying, notoriously, "Hello divorce, goodbye Daddy", intimating that every Irishman, given half the chance, would desert his wife and family if only the law allowed him to do so.

Family life as we knew it would cease to exist and women and their hapless children would be left to fend for themselves while their men escaped over the horizon, freed from the shackles that they had so unwillingly been locked into - just so they could get sex on demand and a hot dinner on the table.

But Irishmen were made of sterner stuff and the much-heralded collapse in family values didn't occur. In the two decades since we introduced divorce, Ireland has steadfastly retained an astonishingly low divorce rate.

With less than one in 10 marriages ending in divorce, we have the lowest rate of divorce in Europe. Does this have anything to do with that four-year delay? Maybe. Just as many people who divorce choose to plump for a judicial separation instead, which means that they don't have the opportunity to remarry, if they should wish to, in the future.

This week, new TD Josepha Madigan signalled her wish to introduce a Private Member's Bill, which would allow would-be divorce applicants to apply for divorce after two years, instead of four.

Madigan, a solicitor who works in family law, has said: "The practical implications of the four-year rule have proved cumbersome, draconian and downright awkward for those stuck in time between separation and divorce."

Now, those of us who have been arguing desperately for a change in our abortion laws for the past few decades may be surprised that a woman from the traditionally conservative Fine Gael is advocating a liberalisation of a law which few people - as far as we know - have been seeking to change.

There are not, to our knowledge, 12 couples per day being forced to flee to the UK or other jurisdictions because they are denied the right to legally divorce here, as women who are denied reproductive rights must do.

But, a liberal is a liberal, right? And any relaxation of our odd divorce laws must surely be a welcome addition to our push for human rights in the 21st century - although, as a professional cynic, I'm trying not to think that this Bill has been suggested as a distractionary sop to those of us who want a vote on the Eighth Amendment.

But being able to get divorced in half the time is a good thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

When we originally introduced divorce, it was so that separated couples could remarry. But oddly enough, Irish people whose marriages have failed seem reluctant to tie the knot again with a new partner. In 2005, there were only 486 marriages in Ireland where both parties were divorced. That's out of over 22,000 marriages.

So even while our divorce rate is low, the willingness of couples to sign up for a legal second bite of the cherry is very low indeed by international standards. Where marriage is concerned, we seem to be slow to get into it, slow to get out and near impossible to persuade to go again.

This is to our credit. All statistics from other countries, show that if your first marriage has failed, then your second is far more likely to fail also - and probably for the same reasons. Two years is a very short time in which to assess why and how your first relationship floundered and what work you need to do on yourself in order that those mistakes do not occur in future relationships.

As the saying goes, it takes two to tango and in the vast majority of broken relationships there are faults on both sides. And while most divorces are initiated by women, they are increasingly unlikely to want to remarry. I may joke with my friends that once is more than enough to get married in one lifetime, but the figures show that many women agree with me - having a husband is no longer the be all and end all of a happy, fulfilling life.

When the kids are reared and the need to be wife, mother, cook, childminder, cleaner, driver, psychologist and all the other incarnations a modern Irish married woman needs to be - as well as, increasingly, a high wage-earner - recedes, more and more women are deciding that it's now time to call time on a marriage that is past its sell-by date. And so they leave. They get a separation, some of them may even get a divorce. What they aren't doing is getting remarried.

Why should they? Increasingly, Irish women, post-marriage, are increasingly unwilling to give up their new-found and highly prized independence.

According to a recent British study, the majority of women reported feeling liberated, relieved and happy after their divorce and looked forward to a fresh start.

The same is not so true for men, who greatly feel the loss of their former partner and are more likely to seek a replacement as soon as possible.

Is four years too long to wait between wives? Perhaps, but whether two or four, leaving a marriage is always difficult. No matter what the circumstances. It may take a long time to get an Irish divorce - but it's always far too easy to get married.

Sunday Independent

Read More