New Family Law Rules for Divorce/Separation in Ireland





The author reviews the recently announced changes to the divorce court rules and considers how the new rules will affect Family Law clients in Ireland.

With the introduction of new Court Rules for the progression of Family Law cases in the Circuit Family Court, Ken Heffernan, Family Law solicitor, Cork, looks at how the new rules will affect Family Law clients.

The new Rules, which come into effect from 1 October 2008, are intended to provide a certain focus and impetus to Family Law proceedings that many clients and practitioners have noted has been lacking in recent years. The Rules intend to do this by providing for case supervision and progression by County Registrars when it comes to the preparation for trial of Family Law proceedings in the Circuit Family Court. The Rules state that the purpose of case progression will be to ensure that proceedings are prepared for trial in a manner which is just, expeditious and likely to minimize the costs of the proceedings and that the time and other resources of the court are employed optimally.

The new Rules will apply to cases commenced after 1 October but they will not apply to existing cases. Ken welcomes the new Rules and says that this is a useful development for Family Law clients and practitioners eager to have their case dealt with by the court system in a fair and efficient manner. Ken comments that the new Rules are similar in tone to the Divorce Rules in England & Wales, where the concept of judicial control and case progression for Family Law matters has been to the forefront since 2000. The position in England & Wales prior to 2000 was similar to that in Ireland up to now in that there was little up front court direction or compulsion on the parties to provide complete, vouched statements of means in a timely manner. That changed in 2000 and the courts now play a more active role in progressing divorce cases there.

While the new Irish Rules do not make changes as far reaching as those introduced in England & Wales in 2000 they make 3 important changes to the handling of a Family Law case in the Circuit Family Court:
* Firstly,
outside the Dublin Circuit, applications for Judgment in Default of Appearance or Defence will be returnable before the County Registrar to be dealt with through case progression hearings.
* Secondly,
it will now be necessary for both parties to provide documentary evidence to support the financial information given in their Affidavit of Means. A non-exhaustive list of relevant vouching documentation required is set out in the new Form 37L, Summons to Attend Case Progression Hearing. If there is a dispute as to supporting documentary evidence this will be raised before the County Registrar at a case progression hearing.
* Thirdly,
and most importantly the Rules introduce the concept of “case progression” in Circuit Family Court proceedings. The County Registrar will set a date for a case progression hearing at which orders for the timetabling of the case to a final hearing will be made. The Rules also introduce a detailed “case progression questionnaire” which must be completed and exchanged by both parties prior to the case progression hearing and will serve to identify the issues in dispute between the parties. The first case progression hearing will take place not later than 70 days after the filing of the Respondent's Defense, Affidavit of Means and Affidavit of Welfare. The solicitors dealing with the case on both sides must be in attendance at all case progression hearings and the County Registrar may also direct that the parties to the proceedings should also attend. In practice this will be a very important hearing and it is Ken's view that the client's attendance will be required so that instructions can be taken in relation to the issues that will arise at the hearing. The County Registrar may also award costs incurred in connection with case progression hearings and failure to prepare for the hearing could have adverse cost implications for a client.

The new Rules also make small amendments to several existing Circuit Family Court Forms, and introduce new Forms necessitated by the introduction of case progression.

Ken's view is that once the clients and fellow practitioners see the benefits of a more actively managed system there will be pressure for further reform. Ken Heffernan welcomes the introduction of the new Rules and says they will promote a more efficient Family Law court system in Ireland and that is good news for clients, practitioners and the courts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Heffernan, Family Law specialist solicitor at Diarmaid Falvey Solicitors, Cork, Ireland
Ken is a partner specialising in Family Law with particular emphasis on the financial consequences of a broken relationship. His expertise includes dealing with Divorce, Separation, Children and Cohabitation disputes.

Ken qualified as a Solicitor in 1995 and is also qualified as a Solicitor in England & Wales, where he practiced in Family Law for over nine years. In England, Ken was a member of Resolution, (formerly the Solicitors’ Family Law Association) which promotes justice and collaboration in the settlement of family disputes and he brings this constructive approach to his work in family disputes before the Irish Courts.

Ken is a trained Collaborative Lawyer and can advise on the Collaborative Divorce option to help clients in deciding how to proceed. Ken believes that he has helped his clients to achieve the most satisfactory outcomes by maintaining constructive dialogue with the other party’s solicitor throughout. Ken is a member of the Cork Family Lawyers Association.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.



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