Cutting the compulsory 4-year wait time for a divorce in Ireland in half would be a welcome change for families facing marital breakdown. It could help many couples avoid going through a legal separation process, in addition to divorce proceedings – which can involve going through the family law courts twice over.
However, this change will take time. In the meantime I believe there are many steps which our government could take to ease the burden and challenges faced by couples in crisis. The changes needed include:
- Better resourcing of the court services to ease the length of District Court lists. I have often attended courts in County Wicklow with over 60 cases listed on any given day. This means that cases are not always heard, despite the best endeavours and work ethic of the sitting judge.
- Increasing the frequency of court sittings will assist in the reduction of lists. Outside of the cities, this is critical, as currently most regional District Courts will only hear family law matters once per month. Compare this to City Courts which may hear family law cases every day.
- Prioritise the hearing of family law matters to at least give equality of hearing time to family law, versus criminal matters. All too often, court days which were scheduled to hear family law cases are given over to criminal hearings. I would not question the importance of criminal cases, but in my view family law is no less important, though it remains the poor cousin.
- Consider the establishment of a dedicated Family Law Court structure throughout the country. These courts would be presided over by Judges who are experts in the area, trained to understand relationship dynamics, and critically, to understand the importance and value of the voice of the child in proceedings.
- Channel resources into Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) such as mediation or indeed arbitration, in an effort to ease the court pressures, and improve outcomes for families in avoiding lengthy disputes.
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