Getting a divorce in Ireland

Introduction

A decree of divorce dissolves a marriage and allows both parties 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, pension rights and other matters. When a decree of divorce is granted, it cannot be reversed, except in exceptional circumstances.

Many couples enter into 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 decree of judicial separation or a separation agreement, particularly if the circumstances of either party have changed.

After the granting of a decree of divorce, either party can apply to the court to have any orders made under the decree - such as a maintenance order - reviewed by the court.

The Family Law Act 2019 (pdf) commenced on 1 December 2019. It made some important changes to the rules for getting a divorce decree in Ireland.

Family law and COVID-19

Our document COVID-19 and family law has up to date information about family law matters during the COVID-19 emergency period.

Rules

Before a court can grant a divorce, the following conditions must be met:

  • The couple must have been living apart from one another for at least 2 out of the previous 3 years before the application is made. (Before 1 December 2019, this was 4 out of the previous 5 years.) The Family Law Act 2019 also provides a new definition of the term ‘living apart’ (see ‘Living apart’ below).
  • Either of the spouses must be domiciled in Ireland when the application is made or, either of the spouses must have lived in Ireland for at least the 1 year period 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 and other relatives.

Living apart

The Family Law Act 2019 (pdf) provides a definition of ‘living apart’ to give certainty to the interpretation of the term in the Irish courts. It clarifies that spouses who live in the same home as one another are considered to be living apart if the spouses are not living together as a couple in an intimate and committed relationship. The Act also sets out that a relationship does not cease to be an intimate relationship merely because the relationship is no longer sexual in nature.

Legal representation

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.

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.

To enquire whether you are eligible for legal aid, you can contact your nearest law centre. Legal aid is not free and everyone must pay a contribution towards costs.

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.

Mediation

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 terms of agreement, while addressing the needs and interests of all involved. Mediation allows people to make their own decisions. Mediation is not marriage counselling or a legal advice service.

The Mediation Act 2017 makes it a requirement that any couple must be offered mediation as an alternative to court proceedings. If you are represented, any court application must be accompanied by a declaration from a solicitor confirming that the couple have been informed about mediation as an alternative to going to court.

How to apply

Our document COVID-19 and family law has up to date information about family law matters during the COVID-19 emergency period.

If the above conditions are met, either party to a marriage may apply for a decree of divorce. You generally make your application in your local Circuit Court office. When applying for a divorce you must submit 5 documents to your local Circuit Court office:

  • 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. If you were previously separated from your spouse, you may have drafted and agreed a separation agreement at that time. If there is such a document, it must be included by the applicant with the Family Law Civil Bill.
  • A sworn Affidavit of Means (Form 37A). This document is a statement that sets out your financial position, for example, assets, your income, your debts and your liabilities and your outgoings. This will have to be vouched unless its contents are accepted by the other side.
  • A sworn Affidavit of Welfare 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 with whom. It also describes their education and training, their health, childcare arrangements and maintenance and access arrangements.
  • A document certifying that you have been advised about mediation (Form 37D). This document is signed by a solicitor. If you are representing yourself, this form is not needed.
  • Your original State marriage certificate. You may need to provide an official translation if your marriage certificate is not in Irish or English.

If the divorce or any aspect of it is contested, the other side will have to submit a number of forms as well, including:

  • An Appearance, which indicates the other person’s intention to contest the application or any aspect of it
  • A Defence (and Counterclaim, which largely contains the same details as the Family Law Civil Bill) which disputes any matters contained in the Family Law Civil Bill and sets out the reliefs which the other person is seeking from you
  • An Affidavit of Means (Form 37A). This has to be vouched unless its contents are accepted by the other side.
  • An Affidavit of Welfare (Form 37B). It is possible to simply accept by short affidavit all the information contained in the first Affidavit of Welfare.
  • If representated, a document certifying that they have been advised about mediation (Form 37D).

You may be required to file further documents before a hearing date will be given, such as an affidavit that proceedings have been served on any relevant pension trustees and notice to fix a date for trial.

These forms are available on the Courts Service website or sometimes you can get copies of these documents from your nearest Circuit Court Office. 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. You may also be permitted by the court to have an accompanying person. Bona fide members of the press can sometimes be in attendance. It is not permissible for members of the press to reveal personal details.

It is also possible to apply for a decree of divorce in the High Court. Applications in the High Court tend to be rare and limited to cases where there are very substantial assets and complex ownership issues, due to the increased costs involved in a High Court hearing. The forms used will be similar in content but may vary in name and number.

You can read more about the factors considered by a court in a divorce case. If the court is satisfied that you have grounds for a divorce, it will grant a decree of divorce.

Divorce by consent

Where both parties are in full agreement or come to be in full agreement, the procedure for applying for a divorce decree is different. However, one party must still be the applicant and the other the respondent. You must still meet all the required conditions (see ‘Rules’ above) before a court can grant a decree of divorce. In general, the process is as follows:

  • The applicant submits the application form (known as the Family Law Civil Bill) with the relevant Circuit Court. This form includes a list of any orders which both parties have agreed to apply for to the court such as the family home, maintenance, custody, pension etc.
  • The respondent must confirm to the court that they received a copy of the application, consent to the application and, if relevant, any orders it contains. If the respondent does not intend to appear at the hearing, this must be done on affidavit.
  • Both parties must provide an Affidavit of Means (Form 37A) which sets out each person’s financial position, for example, assets, income, debts and liabilities and outgoings.
  • If the couple have dependent children, the parties need to provide an Affidavit of Welfare (Form 37B) about the care, health and education of the children. It also describes their education and training, their health, childcare arrangements and maintenance and access arrangements. Again, the respondent can simply file a short affidavit agreeing with the applicant’s statement.
  • If represented, each spouse must each provide a sworn statement certifying that they have been advised about mediation (Form 37D). This document is signed by a solicitor.
  • Where both parties are in full agreement, a Notice of Motion should be submitted to request that the court consider and rule on the application. This will be accompanied by an affidavit confirming compliance with the above rules and setting out the final agreed terms.
  • Depending on the circumstances, other documentation may also be required, such as an affidavit that proceedings have been served on any relevant pension trustees.

Recognition of foreign divorces

An application can be made to have an Irish court declare that a divorce and its terms made in another country be recognised here. Whether the divorce is recognised or not will depend on a number of factors including:

  • Where it was granted
  • When the divorce was granted
  • Whether either of the spouses lived in the jurisdiction granting the divorce, for how long and whether or not it was their normal residence and whether they intended to stay there.

Divorces granted in most EU member states are generally automatically recognised here without the need for a court application. However if there is a dispute, an application can be made to have the divorce recognised or not recognised here.

Brexit and UK citizens

On 31 January 2020 at 11pm the UK exited the EU. From that date the UK is no longer a member of the EU and is considered a third country. However, during the agreed transition period (until 31 December 2020), British citizens and their families have the same right to live, work, claim benefits, and access healthcare in the EU as they had before.

Further information

Further information on applying for a divorce is available on the Courts Service website.
Page edited: 22 April 2020