Divorce applications rise by nearly a third in wake of new legislation

Antonio G Ginting

The number of divorce applications in the State last year rose by nearly a third in the wake of legislation that cut in half the time required for a separation.

The Court Service’s annual report shows that 5,266 court applications were made last year, compared with 4,073 in 2019 and 3,888 in 2018.

Some 5,220 of the applications heard were in the Circuit Court and the number going to the High Court doubled from 23 to 46.

Of that number, 2,980 were taken by women in the Circuit Court, an increase of 32 per cent on the 2019 figure. Of the High Court cases, 84 per cent were taken by women. In all, 3,164 divorce orders were made.

In relation to family law disputes generally, the Courts Service noted that the Covid-19 lockdown had “increased pressures” on families, with domestic abuse cases up by a tenth.

There is evidence that lockdown rules “to stay at home, stay local, with the adjacent home schooling, home working, and home isolation that unemployment caused” increased pressures, it said.

The State’s 1996 divorce legislation required couples to be separated for four of the previous five years, though this was reduced by the Family Law Act 2019 to two years.

However, Inge Clissmann, a senior counsel specialising in family law, said Covid-19 tensions would not have played a role in divorce rates because of the two-year separation rule. There was a list of people who had been separated for two years when the law was changed in late 2019 who suddenly became eligible for divorce proceedings, she said.

“We haven’t had two years of a pandemic, so people won’t have been living apart for two years because of the pandemic,” she said. “It may ultimately lead to divorces but not yet. There is a significant backlog of cases in the family law lists also.”

Ms Clissmann added that people’s expectations in life “are higher than they used to be”, and that divorce no longer carries the social stigma it once did.

“People are more willing nowadays to go for a divorce,” she said. “Years ago, people in their 50s and 60s wouldn’t get divorces for religious or family reasons. Now, that reluctance has passed.”

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