Divorce in Ireland – still too slow and too painful

Divorce in Ireland

Opinion piece by Angela Nurse

Divorce in Ireland has long since emerged from the Dark Ages. What was once an unthinkable sin in a church dominated society is now socially acceptable, albeit still often emotionally draining for the couple involved and their children.

Great progress was made with the Family Law Act 2019. Among other things, this reduced the separation period required for couples to be eligible for divorce to two years, provided both parties consent. Under the previous system, the minimum was four years.

I would argue that while this is a welcome step forward, two years is still too long.

It can lead to protracted legal battles, financial distress, and emotional turmoil for all involved. It can make strained relationships between spouses even worse, especially if financial pressures mean they have to continue living in the same house until the divorce comes through.

Thankfully, the law does accept that a couple can share the same living space while still being separated as far as being a married couple is concerned. And with the sky-high price of properties in Ireland, especially in Dublin, continuing to share the same house is an unwelcome necessity for many couples.

Imagine how difficult that can be, especially if the separation is acrimonious, and let’s face it, it often is. It’s bad enough to find out that your marriage has broken down and your spouse wants to dump you; it’s made so much worse when you have to go on living together.

That difficulty is compounded if one of the spouses starts to see someone new; especially if they’re so insensitive as to want to bring them home. Yes, there are some people that insensitive.

Time to speed things up

The answer has to be to speed things up.

I totally accept the sanctity of marriage and I acknowledge that it still has a deep religious significance for many people. But the reality is that when it’s over, it’s over and the sooner both parties accept that the better.

There is little to be gained by dragging things out for two years. The UK was slower than Ireland to reform its divorce laws, but when it did, it went a step further. Under the new No Fault Divorce system introduced in 2022, a couple can apply for a divorce as soon as one of the spouses decides that the marriage has broken down.

There is still a cooling off period required before starting divorce proceedings and the application for a conditional order but it’s only 20 weeks, not two years. This means it can all be done within six months, leaving each partner free to get on with the rest of their lives as quickly as possible.

End the divorce delays

Sad though divorce most definitely is, that has to be better than obliging couples to drag out the misery over two or three years.

Sometimes change has to be introduced in stages, especially when it involves something with such social, religious and emotional significance as marriage and divorce.

Moving step by step enables us to absorb radical change in more manageable chunks, giving us time to acclimatise before going on to the next inevitable step.

I believe that next stage is to reduce the waiting time or better still, remove it altogether. It will happen eventually so we may as well accept it. In doing so, we’ll be sparing thousands of couples unnecessary heartache and stress in the future.

This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of Ireland Calling.