A decree of divorce allows both parties to a marriage to remarry. If a court is satisfied that the required conditions (see 'Rules' below) are met, the court will grant the decree of divorce dissolving the marriage. When it grants the decree of divorce, the court may also make orders in relation to custody of children and access to them , the payment of maintenance and lump sums, the transfer of property, the extinguishment of succession rights, pension rights and other matters.
As separating couples must have been living separate lives for a number of years before an application for a divorce is made, many obtain a separation agreement or a judicial separation to regulate matters between them before they seek a divorce.
In any application for a decree of divorce, the court can review any previous arrangements made by the parties, such as a separation agreement, particularly if the circumstances of either party have changed.
When a decree of divorce is granted, it cannot be reversed. Either party can apply to court to have any orders made under the decree - such as maintenance - reviewed by the court.
Before a court can grant a divorce, the following conditions must be met:
- The parties must have been living apart from one another for a period amounting to four out of the previous five years before the application is made.
- There must be no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.
- Proper arrangements must have been made or will be made for the spouse and any dependent members of the family such as children of either party and other relatives.
Living apart is given a unique definition by the courts where parties can be "living apart" and still reside in the same dwelling. In those circumstances, evidence is required to show that the parties lead separate lives, for example, sleeping apart, organising their finances separately, and caring for the children separately.
The provision that the couple must live apart for 4 out of the previous 5 years is to allow parties to attempt reconciliation, during which time they may live together for a short period.
If the above conditions are met, either party to a marriage may apply to court for a decree of divorce. When applying for a divorce you must submit 4 documents to the Circuit Court:
- An application form (known as a family law civil bill). This document describes both you and your spouse, your occupations and where you live. It also sets out when you married, how long you have been living apart for and the names and birth dates of your children.
- A sworn statement of means (Form 37A). This document sets out your assets, your income, your debts, your liabilities and your outgoings.
- A sworn statement relating to the welfare of your children (Form 37B). This document sets out the personal details of the children of the marriage. It describes where they live and whot they live with. It also describes their education and training, their health, childcare arrangements and maintenance and access arrangements.
- A document certifying that you have been advised of the alternatives to divorce (Form 37D). This document is sworn by a solicitor and it certifies that you have been advised about alternative dispute resolution, including the options of mediation and separation.
When all of the necessary documents have been filed, you will be given a date for the court hearing. The hearing will be held in private and you will need to show the court that you meet the requirements of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996. You can read more about the factors considered by a court in a divorce case here. If the court is satisfied that you have grounds for a divorce, it will grant a decree of divorce.
Further information on applying for a divorce is available on the Courts Service website.
You are not legally required to use a solicitor or a barrister. In fact, if you wish, you can choose to represent yourself. However, there may be complex issues that may make it very difficult to apply for a divorce without any professional help.
How to apply
The family law civil bill (application form) and sample forms for the statement of means, the statement on children's welfare and the certificate that you have been advised of alternatives are available from the Courts Service website. You can also obtain copies of these documents from your nearest Circuit Court Office.
Legal advice and representation is always advisable. If you and your spouse disagree about any issue at all, you are strongly advised to see a family law solicitor. You and your spouse should not use the same solicitor.
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) 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. FLAC also runs an information and referral line during office hours for basic legal information.
If you choose to hire a private solicitor, you should be aware that there is no fixed rate of charges for legal fees. You are advised to obtain some quotes before deciding on a legal firm. Contact information for solicitors' firms throughout Ireland is available on the Law Society website.