Divorce in Ireland

RTE Investigation Unit –  June 7, 2016

RTE Investigation Unit – RTE Investigation Unit 

It’s just over twenty years since Ireland voted to allow divorce, in what was a bitterly divisive referendum campaign. In the end less than 10,000 votes separated the two sides.

The RTÉ Investigations Unit has analysed two decades of figures which show more than 100,000 people have availed of divorce since its introduction.

Even if the 1995 campaign is best remembered for the infamous slogan ‘Hello Divorce, Bye Bye Daddy’, the exponential growth in broken marriages predicted then has not materialised.

Instead, like most things marital breakdown has settled into a reasonably steady pattern, with the number of divorces granted actually beginning to drop in recent years.

However, whether this is due to a slowdown in emigration, the effects of the economic crash, or even increased rates of negative equity is unclear.

The Numbers

After the first flurry of 93 divorces were granted in 1997, there have been another 50,000 since. The number rose to its peak of 3,684 in 2007.

In the years since, the number of divorces granted each year has mostly fallen and in 2014 there were 2,724 granted.

Many couples still choose to opt for judicial separation, which was Ireland’s precursor to divorce and can offer a simpler route for a husband and wife to split.

Judicial separations were of course more popular in 1997 when 1,431 were granted and although that figure has not been exceeded since, it does still remain the choice of many couples for parting.

Husband or Wife

Wives are more likely to seek divorce than husbands, according to figures compiled by the Courts Service from around the country.

An analysis of the data available to us shows that of the more than 25,000 divorce applications in the past seven years, 14,092 (55% of them) were made by women.

The other 11,490 applications (45%) were made by men. This is in line with international trends.

However, when those figures are compared to the United Kingdom, the gender divide is more evenly split in Ireland. In the UK in 2012 for instance, 65% of divorces were granted to women.

Civil Partnerships

Civil partnership, which was effectively the precursor to Ireland’s historic introduction of same-sex marriage last year, was only introduced in 2011.

However, official figures are already beginning to show the first signs of breakdown.

The figures show that 38 applications were made by same-sex couples in 2014 for separation.

Thirty of those were by lesbian couples although the small numbers involved means it is too early to draw any conclusions on why that might have been.

Results of Divorce 

The level of detail compiled by the Courts Service for divorce is limited for personal reasons.

Because of this we can’t paint a clear picture of whether children are involved or how long people have actually been married.

But we do have information on what decisions are made by judges in cases of divorce, judicial separation or breakdown of civil partnerships.

The most common judgement is to ‘extinguish succession rights’, that is, to end the right to inherit assets or property. This was decided in 33% of cases.

Pension adjustment orders were also made in 15% of cases suggesting that some couples are waiting until quite late in life to part ways.

County by County

The number of divorce applications in each county is hugely dependent on the population size. The figures are highest in the main urban centres of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.

The numbers in smaller counties can fluctuate considerably but the raw data suggests they are lowest in Leitrim and Longford, where in some years there have been fewer than twenty applications.

Refusal Rates

The vast majority of divorces and separations are granted in court, not least because the court has no particular role or obligation in keeping people together. Where separations are refused, it is mostly because couples have not met conditions insisting that they have lived separately for at least four years.

The number of refusals is extremely small – just 12 in 2014. Of the remaining, there was close to a fifty/fifty split between orders granted and orders consented to. Consent applies where both people in the couple have agreed an amicable parting.

County Averages

Divorce rates internationally do tend to be higher in urban areas when compared to rural areas and Ireland is no exception, at least where the capital city is concerned.

The highest rate of application for divorce has consistently been recorded in Dublin over the years but it is Waterford and Carlow respectively who round out the top three.

The other three main urban centres of Cork, Galway and Limerick all feature in the top eight of those counties with the highest rates.

Some of the lowest rates of application for divorce were found in Counties Donegal, Cavan and Kildare.

International Comparison

Despite the worst fears of the ‘No’ campaign in 1995, divorce has remained – by international standards at least – something of a rarity in Ireland.

The rate of divorce in the UK is at least three times higher than that in Ireland. In the United States, it’s four times higher.

The UN study also showed that the highest rates of divorce were recorded in Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Russia, and the small island of Aruba in the Caribbean.

The most recent statistical survey by the United Nations showed that only a handful of countries including Guatemala, Peru, and Bosnia & Herzegovina had a lower rate of divorce than Ireland (0.6 per 1,000 of population) in 2012.

Kelly & Co. Solicitors are family law solicitors based in Kildare who specialise in Divorce cases.

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