Saturday 24 March 2018

Time to make divorce law more humane

Matrimonial litigation is not for the faint-hearted. But marriages do fail and the four-year limbo needs to be reduced

Former Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald's Photo: Chris Doyle
Former Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald's Photo: Chris Doyle

Josepha Madigan

After Sir Paul McCartney's divorce, his lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, remarked that a courtroom is a barbaric venue in which to pick over the carcass of a failed marriage. Within the context of an Irish family law justice system that can often be very adversarial, that is an irrefutable fact. It is also an irrefutable fact, however, that marriages break down. Matrimonial litigation is not for the faint-hearted. If a spouse wishes to get divorced and fulfils the provisions as set down in both the Constitution and Section 5(1) of the Family Law (Divorce) act 1996, then a divorce decree can be granted. Even the terms of uncontested divorces need to be ruled by a Judge of the circuit or High Court.

It is almost 20 years since the people of Ireland voted, by a majority of 51 per cent to 49, to remove the constitutional prohibition to divorce. This Wednesday, along with my panel of guest speakers, I will brief all TDs and Senators on my reasons for bringing my private member's bill, the proposed 35th amendment to the Constitution, to reduce the period of time required for separated couples to initiate divorce proceedings by half, from four years to two. This is a much-needed reform which will allow separating couples to embark on the next chapter in their lives without the unneeded stress and financial burden imposed by a four-year waiting period. If my bill passes in the houses of the Oireachtas it will still require approval by referendum.

For too long, Irish legislators were unwilling to directly confront the sad reality of marital breakdown in this country. Marital breakdown was often judged harshly. The sad reality that not all marriages last was too often ignored and neglected while divorce was explicitly banned by the 1937 Constitution.

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