Radical family law reform sought as divorce rates soar
THE Government is examining a radical overhaul of Ireland's family law system with the proposed creation of a dedicated new court as well as mandatory counselling and mediation services.
The reforms, the most ambitious ever proposed for Ireland's divorce and separation system, were the brainchild of former Justice Minister Alan Shatter (FG) but are now being considered by his successor, Frances Fitzgerald (FG).
Mr Shatter's specialisation as a solicitor was family law and he wrote one of the very first Irish family law textbooks in the 1970s.
His review of the area of divorce and separation was prompted by district and circuit courts nationwide creaking under the spiralling family law case load.
Central Statistics Office (CSO) studies have shown that the number of divorced people has increased by 150pc over the past decade (2002-2012).
The divorce rate in Ireland is now 0.7 per 1,000 adults, still far behind the divorce rates in the UK or Germany.
However, the number of divorcees has been steadily increasing in Ireland, rising by more than 150pc between 2002 and 2012.
Campaigners are now worried that the ambitious reforms may fall victim to the Government's crowded legislative schedule with a General Election due by 2016.
Family law solicitor and reform campaigner Helen Collins warned that changes must urgently be made.
"As a society we need to recognise divorce as a full-blown bereavement. If we genuinely recognise it as that it will change our entire attitude towards it," she said.
"We need to move away from the adversarial model."
Studies in both Canada and Australia have shown that the adoption of mandatory counselling and mediation has reduced by 50pc the cases in litigation.
The solicitor, who is a grand-niece of Michael Collins, has written a book on divorce.