Religion and family law in Ireland: from a Catholic protection of marriage to a ‘catholic’ approach to nullity

M. Harding

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In works about comparative family law Ireland is oft en portrayed as having a very conservative approach to the family, particularly in its attitude to divorce. This approach has been attributed to the influence of the Irish constitution of 1937 which heralded an age of highly restrictive family law, in contrast to more liberal trends in the rest of Europe at that time. Catholicism was an important part of the Irish national identity and the articles of the Irish constitution relevant to family matters are influenced by Catholic values. In this essay it will be argued that far from being an entirely conservative influence, Catholic doctrines were used by some of the judiciary to create a functioning alternative to divorce and circumvent the prohibiting provisions of the Irish Constitution. This “catholic” approach to Church doctrines shows that in family law the courts will find a way to reflect a prevailing liberal morality even if they must use the tools of an inherently conservative framework. This aligns with Stone’s findings in England that lawyers and judges will attempt to narrow a widening gap between the law and human practice by imaginative reinterpretation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe place of religion in family law: a comparative search
EditorsE. Orucu, J. Mair
Place of PublicationAntwerp
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9781780680156
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Publication series

NameEuropean family law


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