Minister to review four-year wait on divorce requirement

Frances Fitzgerald indicates time has come to assess whether reduction in term required

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is to review the requirement to wait four years for a divorce in Ireland.

Ms Fitzgerald has said it is time to assess whether a reduction in the term is necessary.

The divorce legislation has not been examined in almost 20 years and this would be its first review since it was legalised in 1996.

“It is time to review that actually,” said Ms Fitzgerald. “It is there quite a while now and it is reasonable to review it.”

The law currently states a couple must live apart for a minimum of four years before they can seek a divorce. A spouse may apply for a judicial separation after one year of proven marriage breakdown, but it takes at least another three years to proceed to divorce.

Any change in the legislation would require a referendum.

Senior Government sources said the citizens' assembly could be asked to review the term. Former minister for justice Alan Shatter has said Fine Gael should ensure a referendum on the issue is held if the party is re-elected to government.

Legal limbo

Mr Shatter said it was crucial that people had the opportunity to vote either for a reduction in the time frame or an abolishment of it. The Fine Gael TD said the four-year time frame locks spouses in a legal limbo, results in unnecessary legal costs and costs the taxpayer millions of euro through couples who depend on legal aid.

“A fundamental review of this area of family law is required now all the fears of the anti-divorce lobby have over a period of 20 years been proven wrong. Change would require a constitutional referendum.”

Review welcome

A spokesman for

Labour

said the party would be in favour of an examination of the current term. He said the party had led the way for change in this area and any review would be welcome.

It is just over 20 years since the country voted – by 51 per cent to 49 – to remove its constitutional ban on divorce. The referendum was in November 1995, with legislation following in June 1996.

Last year, there were 3,831 divorces before the courts.