Opinion: We need to update our divorce law – Josepha Madigan

by Gazette Reporter

In an opinion piece, Minister Josepha Madigan discusses why she is calling on voters to back changing our divorce laws in the referendum on Friday, May 24.

“The courtroom is a barbaric venue in which to pick over the carcass of a failed marriage” remarked Fiona Shackleton, Paul McCartney’s divorce lawyer.

This is an insightful remark from someone at the coalface of marital breakdown.

For the best part of two decades, I practiced as a solicitor in family law, specialising in the area of separation and divorce. I also acted as a mediator in many cases in an effort to assist couples to avoid a court-imposed outcome and the necessity of having to endure protracted matrimonial litigation.

In marriage we promise ourselves to one another “till death do us part”. This solemn vow reflects an ideal; the steady love and companionship of marriage that many of us hope to enjoy for the duration of our time on earth.

But sadly, for many couples, this ideal is not reflected in reality. Many marriages do break down and have always done so. We need to treat these families with compassion and respect.

I have witnessed first-hand the pain and trauma that the time-limit which is enshrined in our constitution under article 42.1.3, inflicts on families.

The current four-year wait period before someone can even apply for a divorce exacts an enormous toll on many people who are left unable to move on with their lives. They are often caught in a long-drawn out court process that only serves to increase acrimony in the long run.

In the forthcoming referendum on divorce on May 24 we are asking people to agree to amend the Constitution, allowing Oireachtas members to pass a law that will reduce the separation period to two years out of the previous three.

Our current law can be said to make divorce as difficult as possible. The consequence of this is not, as some claim, the protection of the family unit; rather, it leads to the damaging of families. I have seen this with my own eyes.

Our country in 2018 is a very different place to the Ireland that enshrined a four-year wait period for divorce in Bunreacht na hEireann in 1997. It is thankfully an unrecognisable country to the one that banned divorce outright in 1937. We have become a more mature and open society, one that is less willing to judge the life choices of others.

The reduction of the time-limit from four years to two does not undermine the institution of marriage, it simply allows us treat those whose marriages break down with the compassion and respect they deserve.

This month, my husband and I will celebrate our seventeenth wedding anniversary. But for a myriad of personal reasons not every marriage stays the course.

I believe the time limit for divorce should be reduced from four years to two in recognition of that, and in solidarity with our separated friends and family members.

That’s why I am calling for a Yes vote on May 24.”

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