Sixty-six family law cases listed for one day

A backlog in the family law court means couples in Donegal are having to wait up to nine months for a divorce hearing.
Concerns have existed for a number of years over family law proceedings in Ireland. A 2019 report said the current system was characterised by “lengthy waiting lists, overworked judges and out-of-date surroundings”.
But the problems highlighted then have been exacerbated further by the pandemic, to the point where Donegal’s family law court is struggling to cope with the workload.
The halls of Letterkenny District Court were thronged on Wednesday with 66 family law cases listed for that day. Speaking on Monday District Judge Raymond Finnegan acknowledged the backlog and said it was something that would have to be addressed.
According to the Courts Service the waiting list in Letterkenny for non-urgent family law matters is between two and three months.
Urgent or emergency applications, for example safety orders or interim barring orders, can and are heard without waiting times affecting them.
But for Circuit Family Law, which deals with divorce and separation, contested matters have a waiting period of between six and nine months before getting to the starting point.
Garry Glennon works with the Letterkenny Youth and Family Service (LYFS).
He said their concern was for the young people who often find themselves caught up in separation or divorce proceedings between parents. For that reason a swift and smooth court process was important.
“There is a lack of family mediation and that is affecting families,” he said.
“One of our key focuses is when you have parents separating or divorcing, the impact that has on the child. When parents separate you generally have children caught up in it and for them a single issue can quickly become multiple issues, maybe around confidence or self esteem.
“When you take things through the courts, there is usually, not always but often, an element of conflict and that is not good for anyone. And when you have a young person caught in the midst of it, it can have a long lasting affect.”
Mr Glennon said he was not surprised at the family law waiting lists as the local courts in general seem to be struggling with heavy caseloads. The Donegal News revealed recently how defendants in criminal matters pleading not guilty to charges at Letterkenny District Court were having to wait over a year to have their cases heard.
“You read from time to time cases coming to court that have been in the system from say 2016. That is five years of someone’s life. And while it’s not nice for the defendant, it’s even more difficult for the victim,” Mr Glennon said.
One suggestion put forward by the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) is that regional centres be developed specifically for family law cases, rather than “overcrowded district courts”.
Garry Glennon said that when it comes to family law, the emphasis always needs to be on the child.
“The young person can be going through a difficult time because separation or divorce can mean things like transitioning to a new school. It can have a long lasting and often detrimental impact on their well-being and that needs to be kept in mind.”

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