“Breaking up is hard to do!” So said “The Carpenters”, not knowing the constraints imposed by the Irish legal system on couples who get into difficulty.
Separation for any couple is never easy. If you have made the difficult decision to leave your spouse or partner then planning ahead, and obtaining legal advice at an early stage will help to ease the difficulty for all concerned. The breakdown of any relationship is difficult but there are practical problems that must be dealt with. Decisions made in haste or when you are in emotional turmoil are often bad decisions, which you may live to regret.
Questions that are most frequently asked are:
Who gets the house?
Where will the children live?
Am I entitled to maintenance?
Who is responsible for the bills?
Do I need to go to court?
What is a separation agreement?
How can I get a divorce?
These are all issues that you need to take legal advice on. Getting help early on is likely to save you expense at a later stage. A break up may be acrimonious but the parties should try to limit the negative fall out and avoid longer term bitterness. Both parties lose when a relationship breaks down, both emotionally and financially. Each needs to recognise that fact and temper expectations. Unrealistic expectations (or demands) will make the process harder and more protracted for everyone. How you go about resolving your difficulties is also important. If, as a couple, you have tried counselling and it hasn’t worked, then you should consider mediation. The mediator’s job is not to get a couple back together again but to help them resolve issues arising from a break up by way of agreement and consensus building. Where mediation is successful the “agreement” is then incorporated into a formal Separation Agreement. Mediation is informal and non confrontational.
There was a time when these issues only arose for married couples. That is no longer the case. Recent changes in the law give recognition to long term relationships. Partners in straight or gay relationships now have legal rights and responsibilities to each other, particularly when a relationship breaks down. The problems you may experience are personal to you but they are not unique. Others have been down that road before you. Think things through fully before acting and get proper professional advice before making life changing decisions.
By Colm O’Rourke
If you would like to find out more about this area of law and practice, you can contact: