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Divorce in numbers: How do divorce rates in Ireland compare to those in Europe and elsewhere?

Ireland is set to vote this Friday on whether or not the wait period for couples seeking a divorce should be reduced.
May 22nd 2019, 6:15 AM 30,847 17

IT MAY NOT have picked up the same momentum as the last two referenda but this Friday, voters will be asked to make a decision on where Ireland stands when it comes to divorce.

More specifically, they will be asked if the current legislation, which requires couples to be living apart for four out of the previous five years, should be changed to a two-year period of living apart.

This has been the constitutional law since 1995, when a referendum on removing the existing outright ban on divorce passed by a slim margin – there was less than 1% in the difference between those in favour and those against.

The government, and major opposition parties, have thrown their support behind changing the constitutional terms of divorce, after Minister and former family law solicitor Josepha Madigan first put forward a private members bill in 2016.

Ireland already has a low divorce rate compared to other countries worldwide, particularly when it comes to comparisons with our EU neighbours.

So has taken a look at where we rank under our current divorce legislation.


The divorce rate in Ireland was the lowest in Europe in 2015 according to Eurostat figures. It showed less than one divorce occurred for every 1,000 people – 0.7 in every 1,000 to be exact.

Malta and Montenegro were the only other countries with less than one divorce for every 1,000 people – they came in at 0.8 and 0.9 respectively.

The 2015 figures are the latest figures available for all countries and the most appropriate for comparison purposes. 

Where do our neighbours stand on the matter?

While Ireland currently has a four-year minimum wait period before a divorce can be finalised, other countries are much less strict, and in some cases a marriage can be dissolved within just a few months.

In neighbouring Britain, divorce can be granted in as little as six months once certain criteria is met – this includes when a partner has committed adultery, was abusive, or refused to pay living expenses.

A divorce, provided there is mutual consent, can be granted in between three to six months in countries like France, Spain and the Netherlands.

On the other end of the scale, married couples in countries like Italy must wait three years to divorce, provided the divorce is by mutual consent. Without both parties agreeing to the divorce, the proceedings can take much longer. 

In Germany, a period of one year must pass before a divorce can be processed, and a longer three year period is required when one partner does not agree.

Further afield, couples in the United States, like those in France or Spain, can have a divorce finalised within three to six months. 

The US has one of the highest rates of divorce in the world at 3.2 divorces per 1,000 people – that’s according to lawyers who say one divorce happens every 13 seconds.

Only the Phillipines and the Vatican City do not have legislative processes for divorce.

So how does the divorce rate look across Europe?

Here is the divorce rate – based on the number of divorces in every 1,000 people – for the EU 27 according to Eurostat figures for 2015.

  • Austria – 1.9 per 1,000
  • Belgium – 2.2 per 1,000 
  • Bulgaria – 1.5 per 1,000
  • Croatia – 1.4 per 1,000
  • Cyprus – 2.1 per 1,000
  • Czech Republic – 2.5 per 1,000
  • Denmark – 2.9 per 1,000
  • Estonia – 2.6 per 1,000
  • Finland – 2.5 per 1,000
  • France – 1.9 per 1,000
  • Germany – 2.0 per 1,000
  • Greece – 1.4 per 1,000
  • Hungary – 2.1 per 1,000
  • Ireland – 0.7 per 1,000
  • Italy – 1.4 per 1,000
  • Latvia – 2.6 per 1,000
  • Lithuania – 3.2 per 1,000
  • Luxembourg – 2.4 per 1,000
  • Malta – 0.8 per 1,000
  • Netherlands – 2.0 per 1,000
  • Poland – 1.8 per 1,000
  • Portugal – 2.3 per 1,000
  • Romania – 1.6 per 1,000
  • Slovakia – 1.8 per 1,000
  • Slovenia – 1.2 per 1,000
  • Spain – 2.1 per 1,000
  • Sweden – 2.5 per 1,000
  • United Kingdom – 1.7 per 1,000

Divorce rates in Ireland are far below the EU average of 2.0 per 1,000, and we will continue to have some of the stricter divorce processes compared to most countries, regardless of the result of Friday’s referendum.  

The divorce referendum will take place this Friday, 24 May, along with the European and local elections.

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Conor McCrave


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