Compulsory counselling on the cards for divorcing couples in Ireland

13 August 2014 | Written by wearefactory

As we continue to assess the impact of far reaching changes to the English and Welsh family justice system, we read with interest that the Irish government is now planning a radical overhaul of its divorce laws.

With marriage breakups in Ireland on the increase, the government is considering making counselling and mediation mandatory for divorcing couples in proposed reforms of Ireland’s family law system.

The Irish Independent reports that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is now looking at the ambitious reforms, which were the brainchild of her predecessor Alan Shatter – a former family law solicitor.

Mr Shatter started his review following claims that Ireland’s district and circuit courts were struggling to cope with escalating family and divorce cases in a country where divorces have increased by 150% in a decade.

The mandatory counselling element of the proposal is aimed at reducing stress and high legal costs by helping couples to avoid conflict – and court room confrontation – when resolving sensitive issues such as children, finances and who stays in the family home.

However, some Irish family lawyers are concerned that the reforms may never make it off the starting block due to the Irish government’s packed legislative schedule ahead of general election due by 2016.

West Cork family lawyer Helen Collins says: “We need a sea-change in terms of separation and divorce. We need to move away from the adversarial model and support our families in a different way when they set about separation or divorce.”

It will be interesting to see if these far reaching reforms make it to the statute book – and if they do, what will the impact be on both divorcing couples and the Irish court system?

At Jones Myers, we welcome any initiative to reduce stress in relationship breakdowns, and certainly any moves away from an adversarial approach to resolving issues wherever possible. We often advise our clients to consider counselling to assist them in coping with the emotional fall-out of separation. Whether this can realistically be compulsory (or even is necessary) for all separating couples needs careful consideration. Certainly, in order to be effective, sufficient resources must be committed to any such programme to give it a chance of having the desired effect.

Do you think mandatory counselling could work for divorcing couples? Please share your views by leaving a comment below, drop us an e-mail or tweet us @helpwithdivorce

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