The rate of divorce accelerates over a year

The divorce rate is accelerating after an initially slow response to the introduction of divorce two years ago

The divorce rate is accelerating after an initially slow response to the introduction of divorce two years ago. New figures show 3,000 people sought divorces in the courts in the 10 months of the legal year which ended on July 31st, 1998.

This compares with just over 400 in the five months between the coming into force of the Divorce Act in February 1997 and the end of the 1997 legal year - a 350 per cent increase in a year.

The same figures show a small increase in the numbers seeking judicial separations, from 1,263 in the full year up to July 1997 to 1,550 in 1998. Applications for declarations of nullity are also slightly up, from 48 in the year ending July 1997 to 55 in 1998. This brings the number of people seeking a legal exit from their marriages to 4,327 in the 1998 legal year, a massive jump from 1,728 in 1997.

While the majority of those were in the main population centres - there were 1,277 divorce applications in Dublin and 268 in Cork - every county had its share.

Although a total of 2,722 people applied for divorce in the year ending July 1998, only 1,431 decrees were actually granted in the period. While 1,550 sought judicial separations, 944 were actually granted during the period. There were 55 declarations of nullity sought and 15 were granted during that time.

The vast majority of the remaining cases were still working their way through the legal system, and will turn up in the statistics for successful applications in the year 1998-1999.

Although there were over 2,000 applications for divorce, separation or nullity still before the courts when they resumed last October, the total number granted in the year up to July 1998 was up by 761 on the 1997 figure. For divorces, the figures are even more indicative - 95 were granted in the year up to July 1997, while 1,431 were granted the following year, a 15-fold increase.

The reason for the sudden escalation in the figures is because the system, especially for uncontested, no-fault divorces, is so simple, according to family lawyer Ms Anita Geraghty.

For people who were married, say, 20 years ago, whose marriages broke down 10 or so years ago, and who have been living separate lives for many years, it takes a matter of minutes to obtain a divorce, she said.

"You go to the Circuit Court and serve a matrimonial civil bill, stating what reliefs you are seeking. In a no-fault divorce there are usually just two - the right to remarry, which is the divorce, and a relief under Section 18.10 of the Act, which is a bar on a claim on your estate when you die.

"You serve that, and then after about two weeks you send another letter saying if no defence is entered you will seek a judgment. If the other party is not contesting it, you then ask for a `judgment in default of defence', and that's your divorce."

Where the process becomes lengthy and complicated is when the divorce is contested, or where financial reliefs are sought.

While uncontested divorces are simple, they require a four-year separation, and many people whose marriages have broken down are not prepared to wait for four years before they regulate their situation. Therefore, the demand for judicial separation remains fairly constant, as this allows people to find a legally binding temporary solution to the problems of the family home, maintenance, custody of children, etc.