Historically, since its introduction in 1996, Ireland has had the lowest divorces rates in Europe and third lowest in the world. During the financial recession, divorce rates plunged. Many couples found themselves trapped by negative equity and unable to sell their properties and move on with their lives due to the lack of income to support two households. Recent statistics from the Courts Service however indicate that the upturn in the economy has coincided with a sharp increase in divorce rates before the family law Courts. Ireland has a two-tier system with respect to ending a marriage legally; Judicial Separation and Divorce.
Judicial Separation allows a Court to divide the spousal assets and property, rule on financial matters and supervise the custody and access of children of the marriage as well as granting a separation order. The married couple must prove that they have lived apart for one year and a normal marital relationship no longer exists. The one-year time period compared to 4 years in divorce has made this route the more popular option. An application for Judicial Separation is made to the Circuit Court or the High Court depending on the value and complexity of the marital assets.
Applications for divorce in the Irish family law courts have risen from a low in 2011 of 3,330 to a figure of 4,162 in 2016, representing an increase of almost 25%. While many couples in financially challenging times were content to put aside marital difficulties to concentrate on work and child rearing, a more resilient economy has meant that some couples can now afford to seek a legal resolution to their difficulties. Many clients are surprised to find that current legislation provides that a couple must be living apart for 4 out of the previous 5 years with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation to be eligible for divorce. This rule may be satisfied in exceptional circumstances where both parties are living under the same roof. A divorce decree will allow both parties to remarry.
In any application for Divorce a Court may look behind any agreement that has existed previously up to that point, especially where the circumstances of one party has changed for the worse. A Court will be mindful of children of the marriage and will strive to ensure that proper provision for the parties including any dependent children is secured.
For more information, please contact Ronan Hynes, Partner in the Litigation & Dispute Resolution department of Keating Connolly Sellors on 061-414355 or [email protected].