Referendum to allow for quicker divorces to be proposed

Couples must be apart for four years under existing rules

Ireland continues to have the lowest rate of divorce in the European Union

Ireland continues to have the lowest rate of divorce in the European Union


A Fine Gael TD will propose a Bill later this week to change the constitution to allow for quicker divorces, cutting the current four-year waiting period to two years before a court can grant a divorce.

Josepha Madigan, a Fine Gael TD from Dublin Rathdown who is also a solicitor specialising in divorce and family law, will bring a private members Bill to the floor of the Dáil on Thursday.

If passed in the Dáil and Seanad, the Bill will provide for a referendum to amend the Constitution, changing the article inserted in 1995 after the second divorce referendum ended Ireland’s outright ban on divorce.

The Constitution stipulates that a divorce can only be granted after the couple have been living apart for a minimum of four years - a relatively lengthy period which reflected the caution surrounding the introduction of divorce laws at the time. The referendum only passed by a narrow majority.

However, the four years waiting period is long by international standards. Many countries allow for much shorter period - or no waiting period at all - if the parties consent. However, there are no exceptions in current Irish law.

Ms Madigan’s Bill seeks to cut the waiting time for a divorce from four years to two.

Besides the change in the waiting period, Ms Madigan’s Bill proposes no further substantial changes to the conditions for divorce.

Separating couples will still be required to be living apart for a substantial period of time - reduced from four to two years. The court must be satisfied that there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation between the couple. The court must also be satisfied that provision is made for the spouses and any dependants, such as children.

Since the legalisation of divorce in 1996, more than 50,000 orders have been granted by the courts. However, Ireland continues to have the lowest rate of divorce in the European Union.

Typically, many separating couples obtain a judicial separation, often some years before they obtain a divorce. This can entail two sets of expensive court actions.

“Persons wishing to divorce have to wait four years to apply,” Ms Madigan said in a statement. “If the parties have already separated by deed of separation or judicial separation this usually means they have incurred legal costs and the divorce application is an additional legal cost.

“I want separated couples to be treated fairly and humanely. Family law reform has focused on the ever changing nature of family. Marriage has been extended to same sex couples in a very positive and cross party supported referendum. I think it is time now to look at our separated brothers and sisters and examine whether the law could be changed.”