Go gceadófar go dtabharfar isteach Bille dá ngairtear Acht chun an Bunreacht a leasú.
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Constitution.
I am pleased and privileged to move this measure, my first Private Members' Bill, before the House. My Bill centres on reducing the period before which one can apply for a divorce from four years out of the preceding five, to two years out of the preceding three.
Last month marked the 20th anniversary of the Family Law (Divorce) Act being signed into law. We need to re-examine this law. I believe in marriage and the constitutional protection given to it, but I do not believe in causing people unnecessary emotional and financial distress.
The four-year gap between separation and divorce has unfortunately proven to be cumbersome and draconian. Protracted matrimonial litigation has dire consequences on the family unit as a whole, especially on children. We have a duty to treat separated couples more humanely, less judgmentally and with compassion. As a family lawyer for two decades and as a mediator, I have witnessed how the 1996 Family Law (Divorce) Act functions. I have witnessed at first hand the consequences of couples waiting four years to issue divorce proceedings, even when those proceedings are uncontested.
Marital breakdown is a tortuous, complex and all-encompassing process. The purpose of the Bill is to strike a balance between affording marriage the protection it deserves and showing fairness to separating couples.
Currently, a separating couple is required to wait four years before they can issue divorce proceedings. The Bill proposes a reduction in this timeframe to two years. If the Bill is passed, a referendum on the proposed two-year rule will be required. I believe that two years is sufficient time for a couple to come to terms with the fact that their marriage is over. It gives the couple time to go through the five stages of grief that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross delineated, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It allows them sufficient time to adjust, to seek personal counselling and-or family therapy, to obtain independent legal advice and to inform themselves of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation.
This Bill, if passed, will give people options. They will be able to bypass the legal separation process and obtain a divorce after two years living separately and apart or obtain a legal separation by deed or a judicial separation and never seek a divorce.
I have spent a long time reflecting on the needs of separating couples. I believe this Bill is reasonable and fair. Marriages break down, unfortunately, for all sorts of reasons. We should no longer make finalising the break-up period too long, expensive and emotionally distressing. In my experience, people have a greater sense of stability and certainty post-divorce when they are no longer embroiled in high conflict litigation and they have clarity and finality. This is particularly true for the children of these marriages.
I believe this Bill represents an Ireland that is more compassionate and inclusive than the Ireland for which the four-year rule was written over two decades ago. I commend the Bill to the House.