By Minister Josepha Madigan
As a former family law solicitor I have seen first hand the devastation the current divorce laws cause for people, compounding their heartbreak at an enormously difficult time.
Nobody gets married thinking that one day they will have to legally detangle themselves from their husband or wife.
The shock of finding yourself in that position is difficult enough and I’ve watched as the realisation that it takes four years to even be able to begin the process of legally divorcing sinks in. It’s hard to watch because it just piles on more stress at a time when people need it least.
Not only does it add to the emotional distress and worry, it can also add to the cost for people.
Very often, to try to regularise their affairs in some way while waiting to be allowed to divorce, couples enter into legal separation agreements or seek a judicial separation. This can double their legal costs.
Experts believe that the separation period can also be extremely difficult for the children of divorcing couples. Children need certainty and stability, and so reducing this period of legal limbo can only be positive for families.
On Friday we are being asked to remove the constitutional requirement that couples whose marriages have broken down completely be separated for four years out of the last five before beginning divorce proceedings. Instead, the Oireachtas will introduce a law reducing that required separation period to two years out of the last three.
Reducing the time period – sometimes referred to as the ‘pause period’ – is a compassionate response to people at a time when they are grieving the loss of their marriage and trying to move on from it in a way that is best for their families.
I’ve often said that a marriage breakdown requires a grieving process. There are a number of stages which separating couples need time and space to work through. That is why the Fine Gael led Government proposed a two year waiting period.
I think the people of Ireland will once again show compassion in a referendum but it’s important that we don’t get complacent about this vote: people need to get out and have their say to deliver this important change.
There hasn’t been as much discussion on radio and TV as in previous referendums and this is largely because with such little opposition, broadcasters are finding it hard to meet balance rules.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a pressing issue for many people and a yes vote will bring about a small change that will have a big impact.