The Irish Times view on the divorce referendum: Broad consensus evident

Two-year waiting period is reasonable but those in favour must actively make the case for it

Earlier this week, the Government announced its intention to hold a referendum in May, with the intention of reducing the waiting time for divorce to two years Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly

Earlier this week, the Government announced its intention to hold a referendum in May, with the intention of reducing the waiting time for divorce to two years Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly

 

Twenty-four years ago, following a deeply divisive campaign, a referendum was carried that removed an outright ban on divorce from our Constitution.

Change was supported by a small majority of voters and strict conditions were re-inserted into the Constitution.

As things now stand, to qualify for a divorce a couple must have lived apart for four of the previous five years; there must be no prospect of a reconciliation and proper financial provision must be made for spouses and children.

Earlier this week, the Government announced its intention to hold a referendum in May, to coincide with the local and European elections, with the intention of reducing the waiting time for divorce to two years.

At the same time, other marriage protections within the Constitution would remain.

The ‘flood gates’ that were threatended in 1995 never opened

Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan, a former family solicitor, has been the driving force behind this referendum.

As a backbencher, she published a Bill seeking to reduce the amount of time estranged couples had to wait for a divorce. She expressed the hope this week that family lawyers and those who experienced divorce will now come forward and tell their stories.

Four years, she said, was an unconscionable waiting period for those who suffered marital breakdown. They should be shown compassion. There were other, unintended consequences.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the statutory four-year waiting period had led couples to seek judicial separations, prior to a divorce, with all the attendant legal costs and additional stress that involved.

A sharp, post-recession rise in the number of divorce cases brought the number to 3,197 in 2016. But seven times as many marriages took place. The ‘flood gates’ that were threatended in 1995 never opened.

If the referendum carries, only a court will be entitled to grant a divorce and under strict conditions. Despite some discordant voices at Cabinet, there appears to be a broad political consensus that a two-year waiting period is reasonable. And rightly so. Those who favour reform must be active in making the case for it.

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