A referendum to relax some restrictions on divorce will be held in May, the Government has announced.
Today's Cabinet meeting approved the holding of a referendum to amend the Constitutional provisions on divorce. The referendum will be held alongside the votes for the European and Local elections in late May 2019.
The people will be asked to approve an amendment to Article 41.3.2 of the Constitution to remove the minimum living apart period for spouses applying for a divorce.
It is the Government’s intention to deal with the living apart period by way of ordinary legislation.
The Constitution currently requires a couple wishing to divorce to have lived apart for four out of the previous five years. 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.
Speaking after this morning’s Cabinet meeting, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said:
“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.
Minister Flanagan said: “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.
“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.”
Additionally, Minister Flanagan said that the constitutional protections around the granting of a divorce would remain in force:
“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.”
The referendum will also provide an opportunity to replace provision on recognition of foreign divorces in the the Constitution with a provision to allow the Oireachtas to legislate for the recognition in the State of a divorce obtained in another State.
The people will be asked to approve new text to replace Article 41.3.3 of the Constitution with a modern, readily understandable provision, which clearly provides that the Oireachtas may legislate for the recognition of foreign divorces obtained outside the State.
There will be no immediate change to the existing statutory provisions for the recognition of foreign divorces if the referendum is passed.
Minister Flanagan has indicated that he intends to legislate to introduce greater consistency in the recognition of foreign divorces and that he will be guided by the expert report of the Law Reform Commission in drafting legislation.