Legal options following marital breakdown
When a marriage first breaks down, many couples informally separate and live apart. Marital breakdown affects all areas of a person's life, and most people go on to decide or regulate matters between them in a legal context.
There are 3 different ways to do this in Ireland:
- If a married couple or civil partners can agree the terms on which they will live separately, they may enter into a separation agreement.
- When a couple cannot agree the terms by which they will live separately, either party can apply to the courts for a decree of judicial separation.
- If a court is satisfied that certain conditions are met, the court will grant a decree of divorce dissolving the marriage. A decree of divorce dissolves a marriage and allows both parties to remarry.
In specific circumstances, a court can grant a nullity decree. The effect of a nullity decree is that the court determines that no marriage ever existed. The law in relation to nullity is complex, and you should always seek legal advice to assess whether the circumstances exist for a nullity application. A Roman Catholic Church annulment has no legal effect.
Separation agreement, judicial separation and divorce
What is the difference between a separation agreement, a judicial separation and a divorce?
A separation agreement is reached through agreement between the parties, whereas a court grants a judicial separation or a divorce. Of these, only a decree of divorce dissolves the marriage and allows each party to remarry.
Married parents are automatically joint guardians of their children. Separation or divorce does not change this. However, separation and divorce do have implications for custody and access to children, and financial matters such as maintenance and the family home.
The Family Mediation Service is a free service provided by the Legal Aid Board to help couples in Ireland who have decided to separate or divorce, or who have already separated, to negotiate their own agreement, while addressing the needs and interests of all involved. Mediation helps you to make decisions to suit your circumstances. If you decide to go to court instead, these decisions will be made by a judge. Mediation is not marriage counselling or a legal advice service.
Act 2017 makes it a requirement that any couple must be offered mediation
as an alternative to court proceedings. If you are legally represented, any
court application must be accompanied by a declaration from a solicitor
confirming that you have been informed about mediation as an alternative to
going to court.
Legal and other supports
The Family Mediation Service provides a free service that helps separating couples co-operate with each other in working out mutually acceptable arrangements.
The Mediators' Institute of Ireland provides a list of private accredited mediators.
Legal aid and advice is available from the Legal Aid Board in family law cases to people who satisfy a means test and whose case is considered to have merit. If you wish to engage the services of a solicitor privately, the Law Society of Ireland maintains a list of solicitors in Ireland.
FLAC is an independent, voluntary organisation that operates a network of legal advice clinics throughout the country. These clinics are confidential, free of charge and open to all. Contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC services in your area.