Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2024

Family Law (Divorce) (Amendment) Bill: First Stage


4:00 pm

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996 to provide for swifter access to divorce proceedings.

This legislation will further modernise our laws around divorce. Divorce was prohibited in the State until the 1995 referendum, which allowed divorce where people had been separated for four of the previous five years. The introduction of divorce was an important modernisation of our Constitution and a progressive move. In 2019, the Government held a further referendum to amend that article. By a huge majority, the people choose to remove the waiting time to access divorce from the Constitution.

It is legislated for now under the Family Law Act 2019. That was a very welcome improvement to what was already progressive legislation and it is a very positive and important achievement to remove that tight timeline from the Constitution. The reason I am trying to introduce this Bill now is that the requirement currently set under the Family Law Act is to wait for two years for divorce proceedings. I believe this is unduly onerous. The legislation that I am bringing forward today is a simple fix to amend the period of separation from two years to six months.

I have dealt with numerous constituents who are in very difficult situations where their marriages are breaking down and they have found the current law a source of deep frustration and deep pain. It ties them to an ex-partner for significantly longer than is necessary. In cases where there is domestic violence or an abusive relationship, being tied to an ex-partner for longer than is necessary is draconian and unduly onerous. It holds people back and prevents them from starting a new chapter in their life. I am bringing forward this Bill to try to promote a more compassionate and human-focused approach to our divorce legislation. As I said, we have already made one amendment and this is another simple step forward.

When we pass legislation, it often comes with a built-in review of the operation of the particular Act, generally after three years. We can argue about whether that review period is followed to the letter, whether it is useful and whether reviews are done as fairly and independently as they should be. However, the Family Law Act had no built-in review mechanism and in reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister told me there are no plans to review this legislation. In the face of constituents who are dealing with deep frustration and unnecessary pain, with no review in prospect, I am bringing forward this legislation to try to introduce more humane divorce legislation into this country.

I know there are significant issues in the family courts at the moment, although I know reforms to the family courts are happening too. One of the issues that is frequently highlighted is the length of delays that take place within the family law system when it comes to decrees of divorce and judicial separation. We need a deep-rooted analysis of the whole family law system to ensure it is fair and is not contributing to the abuse of people in the way it operates, but also that it is not causing unnecessary pain and hardship. This legislation is very much aimed at trying to minimise unnecessary pain by reducing an unfair and onerous burden. As I said, we have that important achievement from 2019 when we removed the time period from the Constitution and left it in the hands of this Chamber by way of legislation. It is time to amend that legislation to reduce the time period from two years to six months.


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