In 1995, the people of Ireland approved a referendum by a vote of fifty-one to forty-nine percent to eliminate the constitutional prohibition to divorce. Prior to the bill’s 1996 enaction into law, many couples who no longer desired to live as married led separate lives in a marital status that commonly carried the tongue-in-cheek label Irish Divorce. Although legally married to each other, the two people often established separate households with new mates and sometimes started second families. The uncoupling was complete in every way, except in the eyes of the law.
Although divorce in the United States was more difficult to obtain years ago (courts considered the dissolution of a marriage “against the public interest”), divorce was never illegal in any state. Since the practice of Irish Divorce has never been forced on any miserable US couple like it was in pre-1996 Ireland, such a strategy is sometimes exercised here.
Why would two people who no longer desire waking up with each other decide to remain married only in the legal sense? Some reasons involve religious considerations, healthcare coverage, children, and finances.
Divorce is too often an expensive and messy affair. The costs of hiring lawyers, dividing assets, and selling a family home might be too much to bear for some couples and their children. If there is no intention by either spouse to remarry, then staying legally married might make the most financial and emotional sense. If the couple decides that separation will be permanent, then obtaining a separation agreement is advised. Issues like division of debt, child custody, and support, and property ownership should be put into a legal document. A mediator can assist with this, although it is recommended that both spouses show the agreement to their respective lawyers before signing off.