With over 25 years experience, we have been asked many Family Law questions. To help you, we share here answers to some of the most frequently asked questions in Family Law:


How to get a divorce in Ireland?

In Ireland a divorce can only be granted by either the Circuit Court or the High Court. While spouses can agree the terms of a divorce settlement, any such agreement must be approved by a Court (what is known as ‘ruling’ a settlement).

When did divorce become legal in Ireland?

Divorce was legalised in Ireland by the 15th amendment to the Constitution in 1995 . This removed the then bar to divorce in the Constitution. The Constitution was amended to set out the conditions which must be met before a Court can grant a divorce, namely:

• spouses have been living separate and apart for a period of four years of out the previous five (reduced two out of the previous three years by the 35th amendment in 2016).
• proper provision exists or will be made for both spouses and any dependent members of the family
• there is no prospect of reconciliation between the spouses

How long must I wait before I can apply for a Divorce?

When the Constitution was first changed in 1995 to allow for divorce, the required period was four years out of the previous five. That was changed by the 35th amendment to the Constitution –  passed in 2019 – to two years out of the previous three.

It is important also to remember that the two-ear period must have elapsed before starting an application for divorce. It is not possible to commence an application in the expectation that the two-year period will have elapsed by the time the application is dealt with by a Court

How long does a divorce take?

That very much depend on whether the spouses are agreed on both the granting of a divorce and the terms of a divorce settlement. If there is agreement on both of those issues, then it is possible to process a ‘consent divorce’ application within a matter of 2-3 months. Potentially sooner if there are valid reasons for an urgent application.

Where there is no agreement between spouses, the timeframe for obtaining a divorce will be significantly longer and will be dependent upon the circumstances of each case

How much does a divorce cost in Ireland?

A divorce can be a costly process but there are several ways in which the costs can be minimised. The key to reducing costs are where both sides:

– at all times seek to reduce conflict when separating, in particular in matters relating to children
– get early expert advice, both legal and financial, and advice from child experts in how best to minimise the impact of separation upon children
– provide full and timely information on all financial matters
– try to reach an amicable settlement of all issues, whether through mediation or other dispute resolution method appropriate to your circumstances

How are assets divided in divorce in Ireland?

The most important fact to remember is that all assets, income and pensions, as well as debts and liabilities, are taken into account by a Court when deciding what financial provision should be made for both spouses and dependent children. That includes all assets and pension acquired before marriage, inherited/gifted or otherwise.

In deciding what is ‘proper provision’ for both spouses and the dependent members of the family, the Court will assess all of the circumstances of the case including:

– health of the spouses
– income and earning capacity of the spouses, their property and financial resources, either now or likely to be enjoyed in the foreseeable future
– impact/impairment on the earning capacity of a spouse arising from the marital responsibilities assumed during the marriage
– spouses’ financial needs, obligations and responsibilities now or in the foreseeable future
– standard of living enjoyed by the parties during marriage

As well as:- age of the spouses and the length of time they lived together
– contributions which each spouse has, or is likely in the future to make, to the welfare of the family. The Supreme Court in Ireland has said that contributions by a spouse in the home and/or caring for the family should be given equal weight to financial contributions
– conduct of the spouses in the marriage where the conduct is such that it would be unjust to disregard it.
– accommodation needs of the spouses
– value of any benefit (e.g. pension benefit) that a spouse may lose by virtue of a separation or divorce

Can a divorce settlement be reopened?

It is possible to re-open either a separation or divorce settlement. Typically, that would arise where:

– there was material financial non-disclosure at the time of the original financial settlement.
– one spouse remarries, thereby losing a right to spousal maintenance from their first spouse
– either party has a significant change in their circumstances. That could be a positive or negative change financially or a negative change personally (e.g. ill heath)

The circumstances where a settlement might be re-opened successfully are complex and require expert and specialist family law advices.

Does Separation lead to divorce?

Many people will separate but may never seek a divorce. It is possible to deal with all issues arising from the breakdown of a relationship by way of a Separation Agreement without ever having to go to Court. However, a divorce can only be granted by a Court


Can a marriage survive separation?

Many couples go through serious difficulties in their relationships. However, often couples can come through such difficulties whether by their own efforts or with assistance such as marriage counselling.

For many who go to marriage counselling, the experience can not only help to save a failing relationship but can significantly improve the relationship by helping couples to identify and address the underlying causes of the difficulties in the relationship.

Even for couples who actually separate and perhaps pursue a legal separation, there is nothing to prevent them from seeking to halt that process at any time and to seek a full and meaningful reconciliation

How to cope with marriage separation

It is well recognised that relationship breakdown can have a very significant negative impact on the persons going through it. That in turns adversely affects the ability of such person to deal with the process, both for themselves and their children.

Getting assistance to deal with the personal impact of relationship breakdown should therefore be seen as the norm, not the exception. Attending for personal counselling can provide vital help in equipping separating persons emotionally and psychologically to deal with the trauma of breakdown.

The absence of that emotional and psychological support can make it much more difficult to navigate relationship breakdown which in turn can result in much worse outcomes for both the individuals involved and their children


Who is entitled to spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is financial support paid by one married person not their spouse. It is therefore only available to spouses and not to unmarried partners. The cohabitant act does allow for maintenance claims as

How is spousal maintenance calculated in Ireland?

There are no formal rules or guidelines in Ireland to calculate spousal maintenance. Such a claim only arises where one spouse is financially dependent on the other, usually where one spouse is working and the other spouse is not or has limited income.

The level of maintenance that might be claimed varies with the circumstances of each case. In simple terms spousal maintenance is a calculation of what the claimant spouse claims to be their financial needs as against what the other spouse can afford to pay based upon their income and expenses

Do I have to go back to work when I separate?

One common issue of contention in claims for spousal maintenance is whether a spouse should be obliged to go back to work or increase their working hours, in order to eliminate or reduce the responsibility of the other spouse to maintain them. The answer to this question is very much dependent on the circumstances of each case. The relevant factors include:

– the age and medical history of the person and how that might affect both their ability to work and their prospects of getting employment;
– the employment history and qualifications of the person and how that might affect both their ability to get employment and what income they might be able to generate;
– how long was a person been out of employment and the need for re-training or upskilling
– childcare or other obligations which restrict the ability to undertake work. The cost of childcare is also a significant disincentive to work particularly for those in lower paid employment

Each case must be looked at on its own merits. Creative solutions may also be explored such as agreeing spousal maintenance on a temporary basis until children are older or a person can upskill or retrain.

Do I pay tax on spousal maintenance in Ireland?

Assuming that a separated couple are separately assessed for income tax, then spousal maintenance is treated as income in the hands of the person receiving it. The person paying spousal maintenance can in turn claim tax relief on those spousal payments

It is possible for spouses to elect for joint assessment, even after separation. In those circumstances the person receiving the spousal maintenance may not be liable to tax assuming that the person paying the spousal maintenance is the ‘assessable person’ for income tax purposes.

The taxation of maintenance can be a complex issue and it is therefore always advisable to take both legal and tax advices when considering maintenance arrangements.


How can I get custody of a child in Ireland?

The parents of children born to married persons automatically become the joint custodial parents of their children

For unmarried persons, they must apply to Court to get joint or sole custody

How to get half custody of your child?

Half or ‘joint’ custody is automatic for children borne to married parents. For children borne to parents who are not married, the mother automatically acquires sole custody upon birth. It is possible for the other parent to seek custody, normally joint custody with the mother. This is done firstly by that parent becoming a guardian of the children and then seeking custody

It is possible to become a guardian if the mother signs a particular form of Declaration appointing the other parent as joint guardian. However it is only possible to acquire custody by Court Order.

Will I get full custody of my child?

Unmarried mothers are automatically the sole custodial parents of their children. It is open to an unmarried person to seek guardianship, custody and access rights. Such rights, if granted by a Court, would normally be granted jointly with the other parent

For children borne to married couples, the parents have automatic joint custody and can only lose joint custody by Court order. It is possible for a married parent to seek sole custody of a child but that would normally only arise in very particular situations such as neglect, abandonment or where a parent has acted significantly contrary to the health or welfare of a child

In most cases involving married couples, the parents would continue to have joint custody with perhaps primary care of the children to one parent and, if necessary, agreed or stipulated access by the other parent with the children

Can I appoint someone else to be a guardian I my child?

It is possible to sign a Declaration appointing the natural father of a child as a joint guardian of a child, rather than having to go to Court to apply for guardianship

It is also possible to appoint one or more persons as a guardian in your Will. That is known as a testamentary guardian. Such persons only act as guardians upon the death of the person who appointed them.

Generally a person may appoint a testamentary guardian where the other parent is deceased or where a person has concerns about the other parent exercising sole rights in respect of their children.

A testament guardian can then apply to court for other rights in respect of children including custody and access.

What is the difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting?

The ability of parents who separate to work together in the rearing of their children is hugely important for the welfare of their children. Conversely it is widely recognised that, while children do suffer as a result of parental separation, the most serious impact to children is witnessing or being party to parental conflict.

Co-parenting is a model whereby parents can discuss, negotiate and agree on both care arrangements and how to parent their children. It does not necessarily involve parents agreeing on all aspects of parenting as each parent may have their own unique style.

However, the core aspect of co-parenting is that parents can agree at all times to try to parent in a mutually respective and supportive way, in the interests of their children.

Where there is parental conflict, such an approach may not be possible. In those circumstances parents may finds themselves parallel parenting. That essentially involves each parenting in their own way and without any mutual support or shared understanding as to what is in the best interests of their children.

While this mode of parenting is far from the ideal model, it may be the only option for parents who cannot co-operate together and at least it can shield children from open parental conflict.


We hope this answers some of your Family Law Questions – please contact us if you would like to schedule an appointment on 01-6909777.