Belfast Telegraph

Law Society backs Government’s divorce referendum proposal

The Government wants to reduce waiting times before married couples can opt for a divorce.

Culture minister Josepha Madigan (centre) with President of The Law Society Patrick Dorgan (left) and Deputy Director General Mary Keane (Brian Lawless/PA)
Culture minister Josepha Madigan (centre) with President of The Law Society Patrick Dorgan (left) and Deputy Director General Mary Keane (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Law Society of Ireland has called for a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming divorce referendum.

The legal body announced its support of the Government’s proposal to remove from the Constitution the minimum living-apart period for spouses seeking a divorce.

At present, married couples must be living apart for four out of the last five years before divorce proceedings can be initiated.

A Yes vote would see that condition removed from the Constitution and allow the Oireachtas to set a new limit. If passed, the Government plans to reduce the waiting time to two years.

The referendum is being held on May 24, the same day as the local and European elections.

The society made their announcement on Thursday at the publication of a major report into divorce in Ireland over the past two decades.

Law Society of Ireland president Patrick Dorgan described the introduction of divorce in 1995 as a watershed in Irish legal and social history.

But he said the Divorce Act, in particular the living apart requirement before proceedings could start, had given rise to difficulties and uncertainties.

Based on its report, the society has recommended that a provision for “clean break” divorces should be put in place in appropriate cases, that a specialised family court structure should be established, and that a definition or definitions of “living apart” should be developed.

The society also believes that a review of the issue of maintenance payments needs to be prioritised.

Report author Dr Geoffrey Shannon said: “Divorce has now been in operation in Ireland for over two decades. During that time Ireland has witnessed radical change that has resulted in a more secular, more modern and less traditional society.

“The council of the Law Society, having considered the report, decided to call for a yes vote in the referendum due to take place later this month.

“While each case is unique, the current requirement to live apart for a period of four years prior to the institution of divorce proceedings may now be considered too long. It may result in a duplication of legal expenses and protracted proceedings, where parties are involved in both judicial separation and divorce proceedings over time.”

According to the Central Statistics Office, the number of divorced people in the State has increased from 35,100 in 2002 to 103,895 in 2016.

Dr Shannon added: “Undoubtedly, the rise in the number of divorced persons also reflects an increasing acceptance of divorce within Irish society as a remedy to an irretrievably broken-down marriage.”

“The questions facing Ireland now relate to what type of legal framework and practice should underpin its law in this arena.”

Culture minister Josepha Madigan said she was delighted that the society was backing a Yes vote.

PA

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