Divorce laws to consider couples who are 'trapped' in same home
Separating couples who are "trapped" in the same house despite a marriage breakdown may still be able to secure a divorce two years after the marriage ends.
The first legislative steps to trigger a referendum to amend the Constitution, removing the four-year 'pause period' before a divorce can be sought, were taken last night.
A Yes vote in the referendum on May 24 would put power into the hands of the Oireachtas to legislate for the amount time that must lapse before a divorce can be granted.
The Government has published legislation that would set the pause period at two years. But during the Dáil debate on the Bill both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin raised the issue of people who were forced, due to financial reasons, to stay living together despite living separate lives.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the question of whether to grant a divorce would lie with the courts and there had already been decisions that had taken this situation into account. However, he committed the Government to examining the issue further.
Solidarity TD Paul Murphy said his party would argue against a time limit of any kind, saying the restriction hits those who are vulnerable the hardest. In response, the minister said Government had outlined its reasons for a two-year separation and he was keen to ensure the referendum question was one that would gain broad support.
The minister said the passage of the referendum would give the Oireachtas more "flexibility" to "ease the burden for people who have experienced the tragedy of marriage breakdown and who wish to begin again".
He also said it was hoped that changing the Constitution would reduce the costs for people, as they would be less likely to have to apply for a judicial separation.