Friday, December 29, 2023

Ireand State Files : Deluge of queries from citizens seeking to get a divorce overseas

Government officials were swamped with queries from Irish citizens in the 1980s and 90s asking if they could legally obtain a divorce during visits to foreign countries.

Confidential papers released as part of the State Archives revealed a large number of Irish citizens sought advice from the Government about how to obtain a divorce overseas. 

It was not legalised in Ireland until 1996 after a referendum the previous year.

Letters on file revealed queries varied from Irish citizens who wondered whether they could divorce during short trips to the US or UK to foreign nationals asking if they could serve divorce papers on a spouse resident in the Republic.

There were questions on whether such foreign divorces were recognised in Ireland and queries about how long a person would have to reside in specific foreign countries to be able to obtain a divorce there.

One person resident in Ireland sought advice on how they could process a divorce involving a partner now in the US.

On June 16, 1986, Department of Foreign Affairs officials received a query from an embassy official in respect of the wife of an Irish citizen who had gone to the US to seek a divorce. This was done without her husband’s knowledge.

The man believed his wife was intent on divorcing him so she could marry a Swiss national.

A letter seeking advice on US divorce law was sent to Irish diplomats.

“Can she divorce her husband without his knowledge (in New York, Florida or Pennsylvania)?” it asked.

The department advised that precise information was best obtained directly from the authorities in those states or from the US Embassy, but diplomats were adamant about the position in Ireland, saying “such a divorce would not be recognised in Ireland”.