Tuesday 20 August 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'Yes, we should make it easier to divorce - and make it harder to get married in the first place'

Bliss: But marriage isn’t just about yellow carnations
Bliss: But marriage isn’t just about yellow carnations
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

Our world would be a much happier place if marriage was harder and divorce easier. Marriage isn't just a chance to get all dolled up and collect money from your distant relatives, you know. It's supposed to be a commitment for the rest of your life.

It's far too easy for people to get hitched today - not just the Nicolas Cages of our world who file for annulments four days after getting married - but also the 30pc of people who respond to surveys saying that they knew they were making a mistake on their wedding day.

This May we are being asked if we want to remove the four-year minimum living- apart period for divorcing couples from the Constitution and allow a reduced term to be defined by legislation. If the referendum is passed, the Government would introduce primary legislation on the time period before you can get a divorce, rather than having it in the Constitution, which must be put to a public vote when changes are proposed.

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Under the current system, married couples need to have lived apart for at least four years during the previous five years. The new proposals would see that reduced to just two years, with the Oireachtas providing the legislation for this.

The referendum will probably pass. Four years is quite a long time to wait if a marriage has broken down and two years is a more sensible timeframe. Still, there will be some people claiming that we are making it too easy to divorce. I disagree, it's the getting married in the first place that's far too easy.

Latest figures from the Court Services indicate that more than 4,100 couples applied for divorce in Ireland in 2016, with a further 1,300 applying for a judicial separation. Nationwide, the number of divorce applications per 100,000 of population was 87.4. We are fairly low down the European divorce charts. The divorce rate in Ireland remains the lowest in the EU, although figures here are creeping up again post-recession.

While I'm all for getting married for love, there's a lot more to a good marriage than bunches of yellow carnations. Getting married is one of the most serious things we will ever do in life but we don't always tend to think about it like that. We're too busy organising centrepieces or we rush into it because we have been told it's a life milestone we all should reach.

While gazing into somebody's eyes and saying 'I do' is very lovely, the wedding and the rest of your life are two very different things. Marriage, in reality, isn't what you see on social media. You can't throw a flattering filter or hastag on a fight.

You don't need much to get married in Ireland, apart from ID and your birth certificate. We talk a lot about the amount of marriages that end in divorce, but we rarely talk about how many are rushed into. You can marry on a whim - or at least at three months' notice - a fairly hasty timescale. I've spent longer trying to decide on a colour to paint my kitchen.

This notification must be given in person to any Registrar (the official responsible for keeping records), whether you want to be married in a religious, secular, or civil ceremony. Getting legally married in Ireland costs a modest fee of €200.

Under Irish law, you are allowed marry once both people are over the age of 18. This rule applies regardless of whether you are getting married in or outside of Ireland. Exceptions can be made using a court exemption order. It is not a coincidence that marrying at an early age is one of the most common reasons why marriage fails. Marriage is for grown-ups, and everybody else should steer well clear of it - including 40, 50 or 60-year-old kidults.

People don't need more time to save saveable marriages. What they need to do is invest more time in whether they should be married in the first place. There needs to be less of a cooling-off period ahead of a divorce, than a warming-up period before wedding ceremonies.

Conventional wisdom has said that people who wait longer to get married are less likely to get divorced. Like, if you intimately know your future husband or wife you are less likely to discover five years into the marriage that you don't have anything much in common with them.

How about we only allow people to marry at least 12 months after their application has been submitted and increase the age from 18. Any government that cared about the consequences of marriage breakdown, for families and for our society, should really be looking for ways, not to facilitate marriage, but to make it harder to enter into in the first place.

Under Church law, couples must undertake a pre-marriage course. Civil marriages don't have any requirement, but mandatory pre-marital counselling should be introduced for all couples. Couples should have to take a test, take parenting classes if they plan to have kids, learn how to talk about finances, and learn about conflict resolution in a relationship.

Putting more strings on marriage would be better than trapping people in bad marriages, not least for the children of separating couples. Marriage itself should be more conscious, deliberate and hopefully happy ever after.

Irish Independent

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