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Revealed: Ireland's main cause for divorce as marriage splits reach boom year levels

  • Divorce is back to pre-recession levels

  • Family law disputes were postponed as a result of economic crash

  • Overwork, and not adultery, is the main cause for divorce

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Family law disputes were postponed as a result of economic crash, says solicitor Keith Walsh

Family law disputes were postponed as a result of economic crash, says solicitor Keith Walsh

Family law disputes were postponed as a result of economic crash, says solicitor Keith Walsh

Divorce is back to pre-recession levels after several years when family law disputes were postponed as a result of the economic crash.

According to the Law Society, many couples whose marriages failed had opted not to formalise their split for economic reasons, such as negative equity, mortgage problems, unemployment and emigration.

"People simply couldn't afford to get divorced," said Keith Walsh, chairman of the society's family law committee.

Negative equity was a key factor, Mr Walsh said, as the slump in home values during the economic depression meant many splitting couples were unable to take the financial hit of selling their home as part of a divorce settlement.

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Solicitor Keith Walsh in his office in Crumlin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Solicitor Keith Walsh in his office in Crumlin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Solicitor Keith Walsh in his office in Crumlin. Photo: Frank McGrath

But a rise in house prices is among the factors which has seen the numbers divorcing returning to 2008 levels over the past two years.

Furthermore, Mr Walsh said overwork, and not adultery, is the cause of most marriage splits in Ireland.

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"People are not physically present at home or they don't engage," Mr Walsh said.

"It is not adultery. Adultery tends to happen when the marriage is over, when people have lost interest."

Figures for divorce in the Circuit Court, where the vast majority of divorce proceedings are issued, show 4,214 cases were initiated in 2008. This slumped to a low point of 3,330 in 2011. But the figures have been back up around 2008 levels over the past two years, with 4,290 new sets of proceedings in 2015 and 4,162 last year.

Mr Walsh's comments came as the society published a code of conduct for family law solicitors, reflecting the increased complexity of new divorce cases. Key issues confronting solicitors include the internationalisation of family law arising from increased emigration and mobility of Irish citizens, and the constitutional amendment requiring that the views of children should be heard as far as practicable.

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The new code of conduct states solicitors should avoid inflaming relationship disputes in any way as emotions are often intense.

It states solicitors should, in the first place, explore the possibility of reconciliation with their client and, where appropriate, give encouragement in this regard. It also states solicitors should make clients aware of mediation, which does not typically involve the assistance of solicitors.

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Settled

The vast majority of family law cases are currently settled by solicitors and counsel, either through traditional means of negotiations, or negotiations while court proceedings are ongoing.

Mr Walsh said the crash caused "a huge amount of misery" for many couples whose marriage had effectively ended as they were unable to move on with their lives for financial reasons.

"People have been living together in the same house, possibly even in two separate beds in the same bedroom, because they're in a three-bed semi-D and there's two or three kids and they can't move into the kids' room," he said. In other cases, the husband or wife would sleep in the attic.

"This was widespread for a few years. It has only tailed off in the last two or three years," he said.

Couples can only divorce in Ireland if they have lived separate and apart for four out of the previous five years.

Despite the fact many couples have been forced by circumstances to stay under the one roof, the courts will more often than not accept that they have been living separate lives.

This stems from a landmark ruling in 2000 when a husband split from his wife but moved back into the family home. He did this to spend more time with his children rather than to reconcile with his wife and slept in a separate room.

"The judge said you can be living separate and apart but in the same house. It all depends on what your intention is," said Mr Walsh.

"Generally, the practice that has arisen from that is you are more likely to be considered living separately and apart if you are living in separate bedrooms.

"It has to have been made clear to the spouse that the marriage is over and a note kept [of when that was said]."

Despite the rebound in divorce numbers, the rate in Ireland still remains the lowest in the EU.


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