The recognition of foreign divorces in Ireland is governed by two principle pieces of legislation:
1. The Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act, 1986 and
2. The Brussels II regulation of 2001, later amended by Brussels II bis (See also the Practice Guide for the application of the new Brussels II regulation).
These laws govern divorces post 1986; the law concerning divorce before 1986 will be common law rules.
The Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act, 1986
This Act covers divorces that were applied for post 1986 and the essential thrust of the legislation is that if either spouse was domiciled in the jurisdiction granting the divorce at the date of commencement of proceedings then that divorce will be recognised in Ireland. (Domicile is living in a place with the intention of residing in that place permanently).
Recognition of foreign divorces.
5.— (1) For the rule of law that a divorce is recognised if granted in a country where both spouses are domiciled, there is hereby substituted a rule that a divorce shall be recognised if granted in the country where either spouse is domiciled.
(2) In relation to a country which has in matters of divorce two or more systems applying in different territorial units, this section shall, without prejudice to subsection (3) of this section, have effect as if each territorial unit were a separate country.
(3) A divorce granted in any of the following jurisdictions—
( a) England and Wales,
( b) Scotland,
( c) Northern Ireland,
( d) the Isle of Man,
( e) the Channel Islands,
shall be recognised if either spouse is domiciled in any of those jurisdictions.
(4) In a case where neither spouse is domiciled in the State, a divorce shall be recognised if, although not granted in the country where either spouse is domiciled, it is recognised in the country or countries where the spouses are domiciled.
(5) This section shall apply to a divorce granted after the commencement of this Act.
(6) Nothing in this section shall affect a ground on which a court may refuse to recognise a divorce, other than such a ground related to the question whether a spouse is domiciled in a particular country, or whether the divorce is recognised in a country where a spouse is domiciled.
(7) In this section—
“ divorce” means divorce a vinculo matrimonii;
“ domiciled” means domiciled at the date of the institution of the proceedings for divorce.
Section 29 Family Law Act, 1995
If your circumstances are such that failing to prove that one of the parties was domiciled in the jurisdiction granting the foreign divorce then you might consider section 29 of the Family Law Act 1995.
This allows an application to be made in the Circuit Court or High court for a declaration that a foreign divorce is entitled to be recognised in Ireland. In fact you can seek various declarations concerning divorce, legal separations or annulments granted in foreign Courts.
However do note that this procedure does not cover situations covered by the Brussels II regulation which states that foreign divorces in Brussels II countries are automatically entitled to recognition in Ireland.
United States Divorces
Generally each State or jurisdiction is treated separately for the purposes of recognition of a foreign divorce and this is very pertinent re the United States of America and American divorces.
United Kingdom Divorces
However the United Kingdom is an exception to this rule insofar as the UK is considered to be one state. The effect of this is that a divorce granted anywhere in the UK will be recognised in Ireland provided that one of the spouses is domiciled anywhere in the UK.
Exceptions to the recognition of foreign divorces in Ireland
There are a number of circumstances where a foreign divorce will not be recognised in Ireland including:
1. Non Judicial Divorces
Generally the divorce will have to have been obtained legally/judicially in the foreign jurisdiction.
If a spouse is pressurised or put under duress to apply for a divorce the subsequent divorce will not be recognised in Ireland.
If a foreign divorce is obtained by fraud it will not be recognised in Ireland as a valid divorce decree.
4. Denial of justice
This is a wide, catch all type of category which affords considerable discretion to Irish Courts in recognising (or not) foreign divorces.
Brussels II BIS
This European Council Regulation replaced the original Brussels Regulation which provided for recognition of divorces, separations and nullities granted in other EU jurisdictions.
Brussels II BIS will apply where one of the spouses resides in or is a national of another EU member state and the principal aim of this regulation is to recognise EU divorces on an EU wide basis. (Note: the question of domicile still applies between Ireland and the UK as outlined above)
In summary Brussels II BIS states that judgments given in competent courts in the EU in relation to separation, divorce or annulments should be recognised in all EU member states. However Brussels II BIS goes a step further in providing a voice for the child in these proceedings and ensures that if the child is not given an opportunity to be heard then any judgment under Brussels II Bis will not be valid or recognised.
Brussesls II Bis came into effect in Ireland in 2005.
Maintenance and foreign divorces
There are now procedures in place in Ireland to allow the enforcement of maintenance orders between countries thanks to the Rome convention and the New York convention and the Maintenance Act, 1994 coming into law in Ireland.
In addition the Family Law Act, 1995 provides for the application in Ireland for certain reliefs arising from a divorce obtained abroad.
Jurisdiction and service
The question of service of proceedings in foreign divorce proceedings is a critical one. Brussels II Bis provides that where there is a dispute as to which court will have jurisdiction that the first court in which the documents commencing proceedings is lodged will have jurisdiction. This can give you a significant advantage in your case, especially from a costs perspective.
Problems Arising from Non Recognition of Foreign Divorces
The big problem in relation to non-recognition of a foreign divorce is when you remarry-your new spouse may not have any entitlements as set out in the Succession Act, 1965 while your old spouse can benefit substantially.
However you can seek a Court Order in the Circuit Court in Ireland recognising your foreign divorce; if granted, your divorce will be recognised as valid in Ireland.