Lengthy divorce process causing frustration
Wexford is among the counties where court delays are forcing couples seeking a divorce or separation to put their lives on hold.
Courts Service figures show that in 2015, couples waited up to 52 weeks in Wexford, Tullamore and Dundalk before ready-to-run contested cases, were listed before the Circuit Family Court.Getting onto the list does not mean a case is heard straight away.
The issue has been highlighted nationally by Marion Campbell of Marion Campbell Solicitors who has worked in family law for 40 years. 'People's lives are put on hold. I've been doing this game for a long, long time now and I have to say, it's the worst it has ever been.'
In Wexford, Aideen Lawlor of McDonald Solicitors in Rowe Street said contested divorce cases could be in the system for a year or two years. That is on top of the four years out of the previous five that a divorcing couple must have been separated before making a court application.
'It can be very frustrating. It's the distress of the legal proceedings and the cost of the legal proceedings. It's the unknown. A sense of finality is needed before people can move on with their lives,' she said.
Ms. Lawlor said the length of delays depend on whether a case is contested or uncontested.
'If it's on consent and people are acting for themselves, it can get to court in less than a year but it's more complicated with contested cases where there are issues between the couple such as the family home and spousal maintenance which would have to go before a judge.'
'You have to wait your time on the list. That's where the delay comes in.'
Before a case is placed on the court list, there is the earlier step of 'case progression' which is overseen by the County Registrar and involves the preparation and compilation of supporting documents relating to issues of dispute including property and pension valuations and export reports.
When all documentation is in order, the divorce application goes on the judge's list.
'Then it waits its turn on the list for a hearing date,' said Ms. Lawlor, adding that Circuit Family Court sittings are held during Hilary, Easter, Trinity and Michelmas sessions of the Circuit Court.
There has been a call for more hearing days to deal with the backlog.
A spokesperson at the County Registrar's office in Wexford said the 'case progression' process can take a considerable length of time and this is where much of the delay can arise. 'It depends on how ready couples are to go to court.'
'If a case is not contested, it could be done within eight weeks,' she said. However, even uncontested cases must go to court for a Judge's decree.
A difficult disputed case could take three or four days to hear and this requires a special period of time to be set aside by the court outside of the scheduled sessions. Otherwise it would take from the time that is required to progress other shorter cases, including uncontested ones.
According to the court spokesperson, approximately six weeks of Circuit Family Courts are held in Wexford each year with a typical day including a half day set aside for a straightforward contested case and a half day for 10 consented decrees.
The spokesperson said Wexford does not have a major backlog as such but the problem is it takes time to get through the 'case progression' stage before cases even get to the list.
She said the appointment of a separate judge to hear the longer contested cases would improve the situation.