On 24 May this year, Ireland will hold a referendum to reduce its restrictions on divorce as laid out in the current constitution. This referendum follows in the wake of 2015’s successful marriage referendum and last year’s referendum on abortion. Voters will be asked whether they agree that the country should ease restrictions on divorce, allowing couples to be granted a divorce having been be separated for two years. If this referendum passes, Article 41 would be removed from the Constitution and it would instead become a matter for the Oireachtas to legislate.
Currently, couples need to be separated for four years out of the last five before acquiring legal divorce status. When the marriage breaks down, couples must apply for a judicial separation and then return to courts after five years with legal proof that they have lived apart.
Article 41 also holds that there must be no prospect of reconciliation between the couple, and that the court must ensure sufficient financial provisions for children and spouses involved before granting legal divorce.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has stated that if the referendum passes, current constitutional provisions will remain in place; that is, only courts will be able to grant legal divorce status and that standard provisions for children and spouses will exist post-divorce.
This is not the country’s first time to go to the polls about divorce. In 1986, the campaign to liberalise divorce laws was defeated by 25%, while in 1995 divorce was legalised with 50.28% of the vote. Ireland was the final European country to allow divorce.
Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan proposed the bill last year and received cross-party support.
While the layout of the referendum is quite clear, for those who have not experienced divorce it can be difficult to ascertain the pros and cons of the outcome.
Why would reducing divorce restrictions be useful?
- In certain circumstances, four years is an extremely long time to go through a difficult separation. It needlessly elongates the process and could incur a stressful limbo period for couples
- Legal experts are almost unanimously in agreement that divorce should be removed from the Constitution and become a Dáil matter
- Due to financial reasons, split couples may have to continue living together and thus be unable to be granted divorce
- A shorter period would incur smaller divorce costs as they would be unduplicated
- Article 41 currently does not recognise divorces granted outside of Ireland; this would be removed if the referendum passes
Why should Article 41 remain as is?
- It may be believed that couples should spend such a considerable amount of time apart before being granted divorce
- It could incur an increase in divorce rates
- It may ensure that the constitutional clauses – including that which states no reconciliation should take place – remain to avoid undue stress to families involved
The referendum will take place on 24 May at the same time as European and local elections.
For impartial information on the upcoming referendum, visit: www.refcom.ie/current-referendums/
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Image courtesy of Sandy Millar via Unsplash