The perception that divorce in Ireland is characterised by bitter legal battles between former partners has been exposed as a myth after a study of family law cases found 90% of them end amicably.
The study showed nine out of 10 divorce and judicial separation cases which came before the Dublin Circuit Court last October were agreed by consent.
However, battles for custody of children and rows over the level of maintenance payments are the main source of disagreement for the 10% of cases which are hotly contested by former spouses.
Special provisions were made in the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 to lift the traditional “in camera” rule which prohibits the reporting of family law cases. It resulted in the Courts Service appointing Irish Times journalist Dr Carol Coulter to carry out a pilot study on the family courts.
Announcing the findings of her research yesterday, Dr Coulter said they could only be considered as offering a “snapshot” of trends, given the large number of such cases dealt with at district, circuit and High Court levels each year.
A total of 3,411 divorces were granted in 2005, the latest year for which statistics are available. It is the highest figure since divorce was legalised in the Republic in 1997. However, the total still indicates that less than one-in-seven marriages in Ireland results in divorce.
Dr Coulter said she was surprised at the high number of settlements reached entirely amicably as well as the speed with which some divorces were concluded.
In a large number of divorce cases, the courts only make blocking orders which extinguish the inheritance rights of both parties against the estate of each other.
In 11 contested cases involving children, joint custody was ordered in six cases with the mother being granted sole custody in two cases. The child’s wishes were only taken into account in one case.
Dr Coulter said the size of maintenance payment orders made by the Dublin Circuit Court varied widely, although most were between €100 and €150 per week for each child. Orders to pay maintenance to a former partner are very rare as the transfer of the other partner’s interest in the family home is often accepted in lieu. The family home was transferred to the wife in 26 of 43 cases where it was an issue in return for payments ranging from €20,000 to €320,000. There was an agreement to sell the property in 10 cases with the proceeds divided in various ratios. Dr Coulter pointed out that contested divorce cases normally hinged on only one issue of disagreement between a former husband and wife.
Although the average cost of a divorce reached by consent is €6,000-€10,000, some lawyers charge up to €20,000. A Court Service spokesperson said there were also DIY divorce companies which charge up to €1,000 for advice which was provided free by the courts.
SOURCE: Irish Examiner