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Family lawyers ‘oppose divorce-case change’
(L to R): Sara Phelan SC, Paul McCarthy SC, Ingrid Miley BL (moderator), Keith Walsh SC, and Caroline Counihan (Pic: Conor McCabe Photography)

17 Apr 2024 / family law Print

Family lawyers ‘oppose divorce-case change’

An event organised by The Bar of Ireland and the Family Lawyers Association (FLA) has heard concerns about proposals in the Family Courts Bill 2022 to re-allocate most divorce, judicial-separation, and co-habitation proceedings to the District Court.

A survey of family-law practitioners carried out by the FLA found that 96% of respondents did not believe that the District Court was an appropriate venue for such proceedings.

Among other findings, 95% of respondents indicated that the change would result in negative outcomes for parties and families, while 86% indicated that the move would have a negative impact on the length of proceedings.

'Two-tier system’

The Bar of Ireland and the FLA say that they are “generally supportive” of the proposed reforms set out in the bill – but are concerned that the reallocation of most divorce, judicial-separation, and co-habitation proceedings to the District Court will create “a two-tier family-justice system”.

They are calling for the bill to be amended “urgently” to avoid such an outcome.

Sara Phelan SC (chair of the Council of The Bar of Ireland) said that those owning land up to €1 million in market value would have their cases heard “in a brisk manner” in the District Court.

Those owning land worth more than €1 million, she added, would have their case heard in the Circuit Court, “where appropriate time is available, and appropriate systems are in place to support a just hearing”.

“We are calling on Government to revisit this aspect of the bill urgently, and to afford the same fairness to all families and those in the midst of relationship breakdown,” she stated.

Concern on delays

Paul McCarthy SC (chair of the FLA) said that parties emerging from marital and relationship breakdown deserved to have their cases heard properly.

“This is a process that takes court time – and that is not how the District Court operates. All parties going through relationship breakdown deserve the same considered approach, not just the better off,” he added.

Keith Walsh SC (managing partner of Keith Walsh Solicitors) described the District Family Court as the “A&E of the courts system”, adding that an influx of divorce and other cases would only increase its workload further and cause further delays.

Caroline Counihan (legal support manager, Safe Ireland) said that there would be “a human cost” to this proposal, “which will be paid by vulnerable women and children”.

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