Increased delays in judicial separation and divorce cases highlights the urgency of family court ref

Minister for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan, has called for the drafting of the new Family Court Bill to be prioritised so that separating and divorcing couples can avoid experiencing further delays.

Minister Madigan was commenting on foot of the Law Society of Ireland’s stark warning about the backlog of hundreds of cases, which has been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For many families, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought home the importance of family and loved ones. Elderly parents have not been able to hug their children for many months. Family members in different counties have not been able to travel to visit each other for weeks. Those of us who are lucky enough to live with our spouse and other family members have learned to love and live differently – but for many spouses and families around the country, the pandemic has taken its toll on some marriages.

“Any relationship that is already stretched to the limit will simply snap when more pressure is added. I know this from working with many devastated and broken couples when I worked as a family lawyer for two decades. Therefore, the ongoing delays in the handling of these judicial separations and divorces are simply adding to this pressure and preventing families and couples from being able to move on with their lives, which have already changed dramatically over the last twelve months.

“The Programme for Government commits to reforming our family court system; enacting a Family Court Bill to create a new dedicated Family Court within the existing court structure; providing for court procedures that support a less adversarial resolution of disputes; building a new Family Law Court building in Dublin; as well as ensuring that court facilities across the country are suitable for family law hearings, so that these hearings can be held separately from other cases.

“I welcome the fact that the Government took a major step to achieving these aims last September, when Cabinet approved the drafting of a new Family Court Bill, which will among other things establish a new District Family Court, Circuit Family Court, and Family High Court.

“The drafting of this Bill should be prioritised as part of the Government’s summer and autumn legislative programme.

“The Courts Service has done tremendous work in ensuring that many cases across the justice sector could proceed remotely over the last year.

“Budget 2021 saw a record €3 billion allocated to the Department of Justice to fund the reform and upgrade of digital infrastructure across the Justice Sector; the Courts Service modernisation programme; as well as wider changes across the sector.

“Remote hearings can play a massive role in clearing many of the backlogged family-law cases however, this cannot happen without increased resources and funding, which I hope can be delivered in Budget 2022.”