Tuesday 18 June 2019

Divorce vote landslide paves way for rapid reforms to waiting time

A Yes vote on a ballot paper in Ireland's divorce referendum at the RDS in Dublin. Although there was relatively little debate around the Divorce Referendum in the build up to last week’s vote, the public gave massive backing to constitutional change. Photo: PA
A Yes vote on a ballot paper in Ireland's divorce referendum at the RDS in Dublin. Although there was relatively little debate around the Divorce Referendum in the build up to last week’s vote, the public gave massive backing to constitutional change. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The Government is to press ahead with making it easier for couples to divorce following the overwhelming referendum result.

Although there was relatively little debate around the Divorce Referendum in the build up to last week's vote, the public gave massive backing to constitutional change.

It was the biggest landslide for a referendum since the Good Friday Agreement was passed two decades ago.

The final result was confirmed in the early hours of yesterday at the national count centre in Dublin Castle.

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, who spearheaded the Government's campaign, was among a tiny number of spectators as the 82pc 'Yes' result was announced.

Just 17pc of the 1.7 million people who voted opted to oppose reform.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is now set to bring forward a Bill to amend Section 5 of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996.

Under existing law, couples have to live apart for four of the preceding five years in order to get a divorce. This is to be reduced to a total of two years during the previous three years. However, Mr Flanagan said "core protections for marriage" will remain.

"The Government wants to ensure that the process for obtaining a divorce is fair, dignified and humane, and allows both parties to move forward with their lives within a reasonable time frame," he said.

"It is therefore my intention to reduce the living apart period to a minimum of two out of the preceding three years and to do so by way of ordinary legislation, which I will bring forward as soon as possible."

Voters were asked to amend the state's Constitution to hand politicians the power to set the length of the "pause period". Couples can now secure a judicial separation in a shorter time frame, but they must then proceed to a second legal stage to obtain a court-approved divorce.

Those advocating a No vote had warned against the prospect of "quickie divorces", and expressed concern about giving politicians a free hand to potentially reduce the waiting time further in the future.

A second element of the referendum focused on foreign divorces.

The Yes vote is set to make it easier for those divorces to be recognised in Ireland.

Ms Madigan first raised the issue as a backbench TD in 2016 through a Private Member's Bill in the Dáil.

She was able to pursue a referendum after her appointment to Cabinet.

"I think it's an emphatic, unequivocal result, and, even though we have a very low marital breakdown in Ireland, it just demonstrates the amount of people who stand in solidarity with them," she said.

"It's a real groundswell of support and compassion for all those people suffering from marital breakdown and I really want to thank the Irish people for supporting them."

Irish Independent

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