There might 50 ways to leave a lover but for me there are three ways to end an Irish marriage.
I have put the three different routes to ending a marriage in the order in which they were presented to me. When my marriage ended first, I discussed the possibility of a legal separation with my solicitor. He tried to negotiate a separation agreement with my husband’s solicitor but it quickly became apparent that this was not going to be possible.
I instructed my solicitor that we should therefore go down the judicial separation route, he explained the The One Year rule to me.
When the time was right, he made an application to the court for a judicial separation. The court date was one and a half years later. At my first court date the case was adjourned by own legal team because they felt that my husband might not be disclosing some important information and I needed to engage a forensic accountant.
When the final big day arrived for us to appear in court to have our case heard and acquire a judicial separation the law permitted us to actually skip this step and go straight for a divorce, since it had been four years since our marriage ended. I was not prepared for the finality of this and it was tremendously liberating to put the whole sorry saga behind me in one day. Walking out the court with a divorce decree in my pocket I felt like a new woman.
To read the official definitions of various legal terms please visit the Citizens Advice website.
1. Legal Separation
When a couple agree the terms of their separation they both commit to a legally binding contract called a separation agreement and can then obtain a legal separation. A separation agreement sets out the terms of the separation (who will live where and own what, maintenance, access arrangements for children etc) and can be drawn up in one of several ways.
A separation agreement may be obtained through mediation: a neutral, professional person called a mediator helps a couple to work out arrangements that are mutually acceptable to both parties. The mediator then draws up the separation agreement. Mediation is completely confidential. If mediation doesn’t work for you, do not fear. If you eventually end up in court (see below), nothing that transpired during the mediation sessions is admissible in the court. For this reason, it might be said that you have little to lose if you give mediation a go. I strongly advise that you seek your own private legal and financial advise in advance of beginning mediation. Even just a one hour session with a solicitor to get a feel for what exactly your legal position is.
Another way to draw up a separation agreement is through solicitors. Each spouse chooses their own independent solicitor to advise them. If you choose this route your solicitor will advise you of your options and negotiate with your spouse’s solicitor on your behalf to draw up mutually acceptable agreement.
2. Judicial Separation
When spouses are unable to negotiate mutually agreeable terms of separation either directly, through mediation or with the help of solicitors, they may apply to the family court for a judicial separation. Each spouse appears in court with a solicitor and barrister to represent their situation or “case”. Evidence to support each case is presented and a judge makes a decision on any contentious issues presented. What this means in layperson language is that a judge has the final word on anything that you and your spouse cannot agree upon.
You can apply for a judicial separation one year after “normal marital relations” with your spouse have ended as per The One Year rule. Many who choose this option will agree that it is more costly and stressful but sadly, sometimes unavoidable.
After applying for a judicial separation, as the court date approached, several settlement meetings took place between my legal team and that of my husband. The final settlement meeting was held in the hours prior to appearing before the judge in the courthouse. The idea of these meetings was to attempt to “settle” an agreement before going to court so as not to have a stranger (the judge) decide.
Going to court can also prolong the process considerably. In my case, I applied for a judicial separation in May 2016 and was assigned a court date in October 2017 – having waited one year after the marriage ended to apply for a judicial separation I then had to wait another year and a half for my first court date.
Please note – both judicial and legal separation have many of the benefits of divorce; financial unions are dissolved, both spouses are free to liquidate their assets, maintenance and access arrangements are put in place. However, after a judicial/legal separation the couple are still married and cannot remarry. Couples may apply for a judicial/legal separation one year after they break up and then go on to apply for a divorce three or more years later (since May 2019 the “separation period” for divorce has now been reduced to one year, perhaps rendering legal/judicial separations redundant). To date, many Irish couples do not pursue a divorce and choose to remain legally separated; before divorce became legal in 1998 this option was the only one available.
In Ireland you can apply for a divorce four years after “normal marital relations” with your spouse have ended (since May 2019 this period has now been reduced to one year). Once divorced, your marriage is irreversibly over. The assets, finances, properties etc of the marriage have been divided and maintenance/access arrangements (where appropriate) have been finalised. You can remarry without issue, unless you are catholic, in which case you are an adulterer and cannot receive holy communion.
Divorce Decree – This mysterious document is your only proof that you are no longer married. You will need it if you wish to apply to Revenue to be taxed as a single person, or if you wish to revert to your maiden name on your bank accounts.
I obtained mine on the day the divorce was issued in the family court in Dublin. I was so stunned that the long, gruelling process had come to an end, I actually carried this document around in my bag for along time. My barrister did warn me not to lose it as it is difficult to replace.