Divorce has only been legal in the Republic of Ireland since 1996, prior to which there was a constitutional prohibition of it. The prohibition was a result of the powerful influence of the Catholic church on Irish government and culture in the 20th century – especially in 1937 when the second Irish constitution was written. However, the constitution change less than 20 years ago stipulated strict provisions that must be adhered to if spouses want to end their marriage, and the process is still considered one of the strictest in Europe.
There are three prerequisites before you can start thinking about getting a divorce in the Republic of Ireland. The first is that you must have been separated – not living together – for four out of the previous five years. There must also be no reasonable prospect of a reconciliation of the spouses and provisions must be made to look after a spouse and any dependants such as children.
The first form to fill in is the Family Law Civil Bill – which describes your family, marriage and separation. The second is statement of means, confirming your income and outgoings. Thirdly is a form describing details about your children, like how they are cared for and their welfare; and the fourth is a declaration that you have been appraised of the alternatives to divorce – reconciliation, mediation and separation (see below). A divorce – and these forms – can be filed by either spouse.
The case will go privately before a judge who will consider whether or not there are grounds to grant a divorce. You will have to confirm under oath that the information you have provided is true. Your spouse may decide to ignore or contest the divorce. If they contest the divorce they can appear in court to do so. If they ignore it, a divorce may still be granted. If a divorce is granted, the judge will rule on things like child access rights, maintenance payments and what happens to shared property. As with any legal proceedings, you are advised to seek the advice of a solicitor before going to court, although you are allowed to represent yourself.
If you don’t want to get a full divorce, you may choose to make a separation agreement. This is a legally binding contract accounting for the issues also dealt with by divorce like access to children, maintenance payments and entitlement to shared property or other assets. Both parties have to agree and sign the deed of separation. This kind of separation may result from mediation from a third party. You could alternatively try and get a judicial separation, in which a judge decides the above matters, but which doesn’t end in divorce. You can’t apply for one of these if you already have a separation agreement, and you must meet certain criteria. You could also seek an annulment – claiming the marriage had never existed in the first place. This could be because of a technical oversight or if one party is unable to sustain a proper marriage because of sexual incapability or a mental health issue.
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