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Divorcing couples could be forced to attend counselling

DIVORCING couples may be forced to take part in mandatory counselling and mediation as part of an overhaul of the family law system considered by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Couples who wish to separate without going to court can look for resolution through the Family Mediation Service (FMS).

The free, confidential service is for married and non-married couples who try to sort out matters such as parenting, financial support and issues relating to the family home and other property.

However, many couples experience huge delays in accessing mediation which, since 2011, has been transferred to the Legal Aid Board.

Delays accessing mediation and free legal advice exacerbates the conflict between many couples enduring separation and divorce.

The new reforms were the brainchild of former Justice Minister Alan Shatter, but are being considered by his successor.

The idea is to reduce the stress on families and reduce the high legal costs associated with separation and divorce.

Hope

The hope is that through counselling conflict will be reduced around sensitive issues such as custody, access and who remains in the family home.

Mr Shatter, who worked as a family law solicitor, started the review of divorce and separation laws.

CSO figures have shown that the number of divorced people has increased by 150pc over the past decade - although rates are still far behind countries like the UK and Germany.

In 2002, Ireland had 35,059 divorced people - but that rose to 87,770 by 2011/2012.

The marital break-up rate in Ireland has also risen from 8.7pc in 2006 to 9.7pc in 2011/2012.

West Cork-based family law solicitor and reform campaigner, Helen Collins, said: "We need to move away from the adversarial model and support our families in a different way when they set about separation or divorce. Ms Collins wants Ireland to adopt the Canadian and Australian model, where the emphasis is on counselling and mediation."

hnews@herald.ie


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