I don't think anybody getting married envisions themselves in the divorce courts down the line but what do you do if your relationship falls apart?
In my experience, the top three reasons people get divorced are infidelity, money, and a complete communication breakdown.
These causes do not discriminate who they can affect and there can be huge upset, confusion and stress for all involved going through this process. With that being said, the complicated thing with divorce is not dissolving the marriage – it’s sorting out the issues surrounding it.
Money, the family home and custody and access of children is really where the best legal advice, can make all the difference to the process and aftermath of divorce.
If it is truly your last resort, here is what you should know before getting a divorce:
Live in Ireland (You can't get an Irish Divorce unless one party has being living here for a year).
Make sure you were married - it might sound silly but make sure it was a valid marriage before you think about a divorce.
Wait 4 years. The Irish Divorce Act requires that the couple must have lived apart for at least four of the five years before proceedings are issued. Check with your solicitor as to what constitutes a legal separation.
Break up! The court must be satisfied that there’s no reasonable prospect of reconciliation and that both the spouses (and any children) are properly provided for.
Have you considered all the options? The Divorce Act requires the couple’s solicitor to inform them about the options of reconciliation, mediation and separation agreements. It is in place as a means to sorting out all the contentious issues before (or instead of) going to court.
Custody and access. Before you get divorced (or even break up), you should do some planning about where you are going to live; how you are going to live, who is going to take care of the children, who is going to maintain the children and how that will be divided up. If you don’t, either spouse is entitled to apply for interim remedies including orders for periodical payments (maintenance), custody of children, safety or barring orders and an order entitling one spouse to sole occupancy of the family home.
Every family is different, every case is different. Emotions can run very high at this point and sorting this out (if possible) early on, can be extremely beneficial to all involved.
Take expert legal advice. Being able to make informed decisions will help you at this difficult time. Getting advice from an experienced family law solicitor - who is conscious of the potential long term consequences, for you and your family, could make all the difference to your future. It can also reduce stress, avoid mistakes and delays and ensure your best interests are before the court. If you can’t afford a solicitor, apply for legal aid.
Get expert financial advice. How are your pensions going to be divided? You may need a new mortgage or to start a pension or to invest part of your spouse’s pension awarded to you on divorce.
Try and resolve the main issues before you arrive in court. If you don’t, the lawyers will – and that will take time and cost money. A reminder of them are the custody arrangements, family home, maintenance, pensions, and inheritance.
Go to court! Family law cases are informal and private. Irish Divorce Law is not fault based so it doesn't matter how badly a spouse may have behaved, they are still entitled to a divorce. For financial or property orders, it is entitled to take into account the conduct of either spouse, it would be unjust to disregard it.
Don’t try and drag the children into it. It won't do anyone any favours and it won't look good in court.
Begin again. Divorce is not the end. In lots of ways, it can be a new beginning. Make sure your rights are protected to ensure you get the best chance to do just that.
Tell us a bit about the background to your career
I suppose it really started when I was studying for my FE1 exams and needed experience working in a firm. It was at the height of the recession and there were no legal apprenticeships to speak of. Not one.
I didn’t really know anyone in the law game so I did things the old fashioned way…I took out the Yellow Pages! I started making call after call to Kildare and Dublin firms and eventually got talking to the Principal Solicitor, Barry McCormack, of McCormack Solicitors in Newbridge. He said he didn’t have anything available but I asked could I drop in my CV. I put on my suit, headed straight over to him and we ended up chatting for ages.
From that meeting, I worked with Barry in an apprenticeship for three years, working part time as a bar man to finance myself and get the experience I needed. I’ll always be grateful to him for the opportunity he gave me, he has become a great friend and sort of mentor ever since.
How did you end up becoming a self-employed Solicitor?
During my training, I got a feel for court work and knew I wanted to set up on my own. I took the plunge after I qualified in 2012, working from a small office across the road from Naas Courthouse. It has been very hard work, without much time off in the last 5 years but it’s what I love to do. It’s a very, very competitive environment and it can be very stressful and challenging but I love helping my clients, and hopefully winning their cases for them. Many of them find themselves in real difficulty, ranging from family law issues, alleged criminal offences, financial problems or employment issues. We also look after personal injury cases – it’s a varied working day to say the least!
Being self-employed means that I am more flexible in the way I work and can adapt quickly and efficiently to my clients’ needs…many of them don’t work 9-5 anymore so I don’t either.
What does your working day look like?
To start with, it never really looks the same but a huge part of my job is talking to people. Before and after court, calls between my office, barristers, solicitors, clients, court staff and the Gardaí come in thick and fast. Information is the name of the game and you have to keep that circle of people updated and informed very quickly, as it can be very important and sensitive in many ways to their work, or their court cases. Court appearances take up most of the working week but there are special sittings in the evenings and weekends for some cases, with most Garda station call outs and prison visits taking place then too. We also offer flexible consultations during the week and at weekends, as you have to make yourself adaptable to meet people, who otherwise, wouldn’t have time to meet with you.
With the nature of this type of work, it can be challenging to make personal plans in advance but my wife, family and friends have been very understanding that it’s all part of the job – and anyone who is self-employed will tell you there is no ‘clock out’ button. I’ve had to miss a few birthdays, stags, even weddings but I knew what I was getting myself into starting out. The first few years were incredibly busy but I have much more support now with a great team in the office, and have learnt to say no the odd time too!
How do you defend people you know are guilty, or have done terrible things?
This one is always of interest to people when they find out you are a Criminal Defence Solicitor. Isn’t it funny how people never ask: "How can you prosecute someone you know to be innocent?" There is a huge difference between knowing someone is guilty and suspecting or believing they're guilty. We work under extremely strict rules of ethics and we're subject to the law.
If a client tells me they have committed an offence, I cannot then run a not guilty plea at trial unless they think they have committed the offence, when in law they haven’t, and I advise them of this. For example, just because a client admits hitting someone, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily guilty of assault, they may have acted in self-defence. However, I am what is called an officer of the court, and cannot mislead it.
Even if I do not necessarily believe my client’s account, I am still free to pursue the defence they offer. My doubts to innocence have been proved wrong quite a few times too, as the evidence has shown my client to be telling the truth. The court is the arbiter of truth, not me. Or, it might be the case, and often is, where a guilty pleas has been admitted to the court and we are mitigating to obtain a lesser sentence. If my client tells me they are innocent I have to act for them, because it is a cardinal rule of the profession that we are not allowed to refuse to represent someone because we don't like them or because we don't believe in their case.
It is a human right to be allowed a defence. However serious the allegation, however unpleasant, however vilified by society a defendant may be, the rule of law demands that a person or company receive a proper defence.
If you put yourself or a loved one in the position of being accused of a serious crime, you would want the best possible representation in court. We strongly feel that for any client to choose us to represent them in court or to instruct us on their case, that we should reward that choice with the very best result we can get them.