Irish divorce: ‘We had to remind each other we didn’t hate each other’

Two people describe the ‘cruelty’ of an adversarial process that left them in limbo

“You are effectively in a position where you can’t move on with your life.” Photograph: iStock

“You are effectively in a position where you can’t move on with your life.” Photograph: iStock

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Caroline and her husband realised not long after they tied the knot that the marriage was not working. They decided to divorce but a tortuous legal system made their good-natured split far less harmonious.

“Living separately and apart for four of the five years is cruelty,” said Caroline (38), referring to the divorce bar that forces couples to wait a period of time before they can fully and finally part and remarry.

“It made the amicable nature of our arrangement much less friendly. We had to fight in our own heads and have conversations to remind each other we didn’t hate each other and that it was the system that’s adversarial, and unnecessarily so around time frames. The process added a friction and to my mind that is not acceptable.”

The Dubliner married seven years ago and finally received her decree of divorce earlier this year. It ended a complicated period for the couple. The recession meant they could not afford to move out. They had to live in separate bedrooms under the same roof for four years and yet prove that they had lived separately in order to divorce.

She had to argue her case in court that having separate shelves in the fridge constituted a separation and that boiling the one pan of pasta or sharing a roast chicken for an occasional meal did not constitute marriage.

“Life cannot move on substantively because of a rule outside of your control; it is a horrible place to be. I ended up feeling trapped at times,” she said.

New referendum

Caroline, who with her ex-husband is €30,000 poorer in fees for their uncontested divorce, welcomed the Government’s plans to hold another referendum on divorce next year.

Her preference is for the waiting period for a divorce to be reduced from four years to one – not two, as the Government proposes – and for marriage to be removed from the Constitution altogether.

“Marriage has no business in the Constitution. We can’t have a country that keeps drawing people back to the polls to change what are social norms. The Government needs to keep pace with people’s lives,” she said.

“Modern democracies make laws that are appropriate to the social and societal norms for people that vote in elections. I don’t see why we can’t do it.”

A contested divorce

It took John (54) almost six years to secure his divorce. Embroiled in a contested process, he could not remarry, and the legal advice he received was: do not buy property as it could figure in the divorce case.

“You are effectively in a position where you can’t move on with your life,” he said.

His judicial separation was approved in 2014 but he was “still in limbo at that stage”; he had to wait another four years while in a new relationship.

“That was difficult as well; my new partner knew that this was hanging over me and I had a lengthy process to go through,” he said.

He believes the proposed reduction in the waiting period to two years, if voted through in next year’s referendum, will help people avoid going through what he endured.

He paid a solicitor and barrister roughly the same costs twice, for his judicial separation and divorce. The costs totalled €40,000. His grant of divorce arrived on the same day he met a registrar about his second marriage.

“It certainly would reduce the stress,” he said of the Government’s proposed referendum.

“I was certainly pleased that there has been some movement on it, because for so long the legal process left so many people in limbo for an extended period without being able to move on.”

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