Increase in Separation and Divorce during Lockdown?

John A Sinnott Solicitors, family law 2

There have been many media reports citing huge increases in separation and divorce rates in Ireland since Covid-19 forced us all to stay at home.  It is true that there has been a rise in divorce rates in Ireland.  The Court Services Annual Report shows that the numbers of court applications were:

  • 5,266 in 2020
  • 4,073 in 2019
  • 3,888 in 2018

However, these higher rates cannot be attributed to the effects of lockdowns.  These higher rates are because the minimum period that couples seeking a divorce are required to have lived apart were reduced.

Previously, couples must have lived apart for 4 years during the previous 5 years from when divorce proceedings commence.

Since December 2019, couples must have lived apart for 2 years during the previous 3 years.  In January 2020, there was a list of couples eligible for divorce who weren’t previously, hence, the increase in divorces in 2020.

Having said that, it is fair to say that lockdowns did increase pressures on relationships that were already fraught and probably did play a factor in causing separations.  Certainly, we have seen a significant increase in the numbers of people seeking advice in relation to marriage breakdown in the last 18 months.  These couple won’t be eligible for divorce for 24 months after they separated.

Every case we encounter is different and has its own challenges and complications.  But we always encourage couples to exhaust all other options first before embarking on the divorce process which can be expensive.  We always recommend exploring counselling or mediation as alternatives and as a very important first step.

This is the reason for the ‘living apart rule’ of 2 years, to give couples the opportunity to exhaust any chance of reconciliation.

The minimum 2-year period does not have to have been continuous.

Also, if it can be proven that the couple has been forced by circumstances to stay under one roof, the courts will often accept that they have been living separate lives.  This stems from a landmark ruling in 2000 when a husband split from his wife but moved back into the family home. He did this to spend more time with his children rather than to reconcile with his wife and slept in a separate room.  The judge in this case said, “you can be living separate and apart but in the same house.  It all depends on what your intention is.”

We are seeing cases like this very often now.  Most couples who are separated and seeking to divorce cannot afford to upkeep two separate houses and so, live separately within the same house.

Contact us so that you know your options. 

If the case is non-contentious and the couple themselves agree terms, we will take a sensible approach in advising if the terms are considered ‘proper provision’ for both people and any children. 

If the case is contentious and needs to be settled through the courts, don’t be afraid of it.  Family law courts sit in private and the objective is to make proper provision for both parties and any children.