The Divorce Bill

The Minister for Justice, Charlie Flannagan, has published the eagerly awaited Family Law Bill 2019. The Bill will give effect to May’s divorce referendum.

Waiting times for divorce will reduce from four years to two years under the new law. This means that spouses will now have to live separate and apart for two instead of four years before applying for divorce. The Bill also reduces waiting times for judicial separations. Where one spouse is not consenting to the judicial separation, the waiting time has been reduced from three years to one year.

Due to the threat of a no-deal Brexit, the Bill also introduces measures on the recognition of divorces, legal separations and annulments granted in the UK. The Bill provides that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK decisions will be recognised in Ireland in a similar way that EU decisions are recognised.

Steps before it becomes law

In publishing the Bill, Minister Flannagan stated that he hoped the Bill would be enacted before 31 October, so that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the provisions on recognition of UK divorces, legal separations and marriage annulments could have effect. There are a number of steps that will have to be taken first. The Bill will first have to be approved by the Dáil, before progressing to the Seanad for further debate and approval. Finally, the Bill would have to be signed into law by the President, only then becoming a law. It is not yet clear whether these steps will be taken in advance of the Brexit date but it is clear that the government is attempting to move this legislation through the approval processes as quickly as possible.

No ‘quickie’ divorces

Although waiting times for both divorces and judicial separations have been reduced substantially by the new Bill, there remains a very conservative waiting time to be eligible for relief under the Bill. The government is not proposing any sort of quickie divorces in Ireland. The reduction in waiting times was seen as essential, especially in cases where children are involved, where there is no prospect of reconciliation and the parties are left in limbo for four years.

However, more funding for the under-resourced family courts around the country is needed if the changes are going to have a meaningful effect and actually make the process faster for separating spouses.