Ireland Set To Hold Divorce Referendum

The Irish Government has announced plans to hold a referendum on easing the country's divorce restrictions.

The vote will propose removing guidelines set in the Irish Constitution regarding the minimum period an estranged couple must spend living apart before they can receive the permanent divorce decree.

Ministers are hoping to shorten the period from four years to two in the poll that will be held alongside the European and local elections in late May.

Ireland's Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, welcomed the announcement: "I am pleased to have received the support of my Government colleagues to bring forward this important referendum and to allow the people of Ireland to have their say on an issue that unfortunately affects families across the country.

"Ireland has one of the lowest divorce rates in Europe and that is to be welcomed. Sadly, however, some marriages do break down irreconcilably, causing immense sadness and stress for all concerned. The Government wishes to ensure that the process for obtaining a divorce is fair, dignified and humane and allows both parties to move forward with their lives within a reasonable timeframe.

"I would like to acknowledge the work of my colleague, Minister Josepha Madigan, on her Private Members' Bill, which started the legislative discussion around this issue. Both Minister Madigan and I dealt with marital breakdowns over the course of our legal careers and we are both very conscious of the emotional and financial cost of the current constitutionally mandated separation periods and the need for change."
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If the referendum is passed, the Government will bring forward a Bill to amend section 5(1)(a) of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996 to reduce the minimum period to two years during the previous three years.

Minister Flanagan added: "Over time, we have learned that complex questions of social policy are best dealt with through detailed legislation in the Oireachtas rather than in our Constitution. The fundamental principles and protections concerning divorce will not change. However, removing the time period from the Constitution would give the Oireachtas greater flexibility to legislate to ease the burden on people who have experienced the tragedy of a marriage breakdown and wish to begin again. I am proposing a Bill to reduce the living apart period to two years, thereby allowing people to bring a divorce application at an earlier time. As it stands, the long separation period required under the Constitution frequently leads to couples seeking a judicial separation prior to obtaining a divorce with attendant legal costs and additional stress."

The referendum will also provide an opportunity to replace the outdated provision on recognition of foreign divorces in Article 41.3.3 of the Constitution. The people will be asked to approve new text to replace this Article with a modern, readily understandable provision, which clearly provides that the Oireachtas may legislate for the recognition of foreign divorces obtained outside the State. 

Mr Fanagan added: "If the referendum is passed, the current provisions containing the requirements that there be no prospect of reconciliation and that proper provision exists or will be made for spouses and children will continue in the Constitution. It will also remain the case that only a Court can grant a divorce."


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