Ireland to liberalize divorce laws following referendum

Vote removes four year separation requirement

By Jack Guy and Sarah Dean, CNN
iStock/ardaguldogan

DUBLIN - Divorce laws in the Republic of Ireland will be liberalized after the results of a referendum were revealed Sunday morning.

Results from Friday's referendum show 82% of voters want to change the existing law, which is enshrined in the constitution, under which a person can only apply for a divorce after living separately from their spouse for four out of the previous five years.

The clause will now be removed, allowing lawmakers to decide on a new separation period.

Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan tweeted Friday calling exit polls showing overwhelming support for the change "very positive news."

"I intend moving speedily with legislation to cut waiting time & thereby reduce upset & trauma on couples & children where marriages have irreconcilably broken down," wrote Flanagan.

In March Flanagan said the government intends to reduce the living apart period to two years so both parties can "move forward with their lives within a reasonable timeframe."

As things stand no one is exempt from the mandatory wait time, including those who are trying to leave abusive relationships, most of whom are women.

Women suffering from domestic abuse could benefit from a shorter divorce process in order to protect themselves -- and their children -- from continued abuse from a former spouse, according to the National Women's Council of Ireland.

Other individuals in the process of separating argue that the minimum wait time creates unnecessary levels of anxiety, prohibits their ability to move on, wreaks havoc on their emotional well-being and is a terrible financial burden.

One man told CNN he had been to court 40 times and spent tens of thousands of euros on legal fees trying to get a divorce.

Michael Rossney said the long wait has fueled a hostile environment that has been exploited by the legal system, and that the proceedings -- and relationship with his ex -- could have been more positive if the mandatory period wasn't so drawn out.

Divorced was only legalized in Ireland in 1995 by a small majority, 50.3%.

Friday's referendum has become the latest in a series of measures reflecting modern Irish society that have recently questioned, and rejected, the historical role of the Catholic Church's doctrine on its institutions.

Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote, with more than 60% voting yes in a referendum in 2015. And, earlier this year, it opened its first abortion services following the 2018 vote that repealed a constitutional amendment that had placed a near-ban on terminations.

"Ireland has really grown into a more tolerant and progressive society over the last 24 years," tweeted Irish Senator Catherine Noone following the divorce referendum result.

Journalist Peter Taggart and CNN's Kara Fox contributed to this report.

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