Marital Separation in Contemporary Ireland

Women’s Experiences

by Lucy Hyland (Author)
©2016 Monographs XII, 230 Pages


This book is based on detailed interviews with a group of Irish women who have experienced marital separation. It links the women’s accounts with literature on the values and beliefs about marriage, women and family which were prevalent when they were growing up in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s. The book chronicles their young adult years, the early stages of their marriages and the events and processes which led to their separations. It explores the women’s emotional reactions at the time of separating, the types of support which they found beneficial and the personal, social and financial consequences of having separated.
Although the book is written from a sociological perspective, the combination of theory and practical insights make it accessible to a wide variety of readers. It aims to generate discussion and deepen understanding of an area into which there has been minimal research in Ireland and which poses a range of important questions for future researchers, practitioners and policy-makers.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Childhood
  • Chapter 3: Identity Formation in Young Adulthood
  • Chapter 4: Experiences during Marriage: Practical Aspects
  • Chapter 5: Experiences during Marriage: Relational and Emotional Aspects
  • Chapter 6: Events and Feelings at the Time of Separation
  • Chapter 7: Legal, Financial and Housing Arrangements
  • Chapter 8: Relationships following Separation
  • Chapter 9: Identity and Resilience Post-Separation
  • Chapter 10: Experiences of Formal Support
  • Chapter 11: Concluding Comments
  • References
  • Appendices
  • Index

← viii | ix →


Table 1: Profiles of the Women during their Childhood Years

Table 2: Profiles of the Women during Marriage

Table 3: Legal, Financial and Housing Arrangements ← ix | x →

← x | xi →


First and foremost, I would like to thank the fourteen women who told me their stories of separation. My hope is that I have done them justice and that together we have drawn attention to what was a previously unseen and poorly understood aspect of Irish women’s lives.

I wish to express my sincere thanks to my students and colleagues at Carlow College for their on-going assistance and encouragement. I would like to thank my supervisor, Dr Jacqui O’Riordan, for her guidance throughout the writing of the original dissertation. I would also like to thank the staff and students of the School of Applied Social Studies in UCC, for their support throughout the DSocSc programme.

This book could not have been completed without the support of my family and friends. I would like to thank my brother James for his help with proof-reading and for his invaluable feedback and advice. I would like to thank my brothers, Pat and William, for always being at the end of a phone if I needed them. I would like to thank my two children, Fiona and Jack, who had to live with me through the ups and downs that have been my life for the past seven years. I would like to thank my friends who have continued to stay in touch and to help me in so many ways. I have drawn huge strength from knowing that my sister, my mother, my father and my friend Kay O’Reilly would all have been proud of me if they had lived to see me complete this book. ← xi | xii →

← xii | 1 →



On Easter Sunday morning, the 23rd March 2008, I discovered that my husband was having an affair. After a marriage that had lasted for twenty- four years, he moved out of our home permanently one week later. This is obviously not the whole story but, for our children’s sake, it is as much as I am prepared to tell right now. The following November I attended two post-separation courses in Dublin. Neither course was advertised as being solely for women or as being specifically for women aged over forty-five years of age, but that is who was there. It occurred to me that there was something taking place across the country about which very little had been written or was known and which warranted further study.

I had started a Doctorate in Social Science (DSocSc) at University College Cork (UCC) in September 2007. For a period after my separation, the only topic I was able to focus on making sense of was marital separation, so that became the subject of my dissertation. This book is based on interviews with fourteen women who had separated which I carried out in July and August of 2010 as part of my doctoral dissertation.

Irish Context

The most recent figures published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO, September 2012) show that in 2011 a total of 115,046 women were either separated or divorced in Ireland. The CSO report (2012) also states that ‘the rate of separation begins to increase when people are in their late twenties ← 1 | 2 → and increases steadily throughout the thirties and forties, reaching a peak at age forty-eight’ (p. 9). These figures confirm that separation currently affects a considerable number of people in Ireland and that it is predominantly a midlife phenomenon, affecting people mainly in their forties and fifties.

The age group of women with which this book is concerned constitutes the first generation of Irish women to separate openly in such large numbers. Women who are currently in midlife will have entered marriage at a time when divorce was illegal in Ireland. It is likely they will have been socialised to believe in lifelong marriage. They are the first generation of Irish women to experience such a public change in the structure of their marriages and of their families. There is no clear cultural script for the manner in which Irish women should experience separation. How this age cohort of women make sense of and feel about separation will not be the same as for women in other countries or, possibly, even for later generations of Irish women. It is important therefore to give voice to these women now.

Aims and Rationale

The aim of this book is to contribute towards a greater understanding of Irish women’s experiences of separation. Almost no research has been done into this specific topic. The book is written by an ‘insider’ and provides an ‘insider’s’ view of what separation is like as described by fourteen Irish women who are separated. It will deal not only with legal, housing and financial aspects but also with the range of emotions that accompany the events and the processes involved in separating.

The book is written primarily in an academic style, using theoretical concepts, references and quotations from academic literature. It is written mainly from a sociological perspective but every effort is made to make the work accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Verbatim quotations from the fourteen women constitute the bulk of the writing. This material will be of interest to women and men who are separating, to their children, ← 2 | 3 → their families and friends. It will provide useful insights for students of families and to the wide range of practitioners and policy makers whose job it is to support families.

Marital separation ‘is a metaphorical surgery which effects all areas of life of the individual’ (Satir, 1980 in Fisher and Alberti, 2008:ix). It has ‘the potential to create considerable turmoil in people’s lives’ (Amato, 2000:1269), hence the need to understand it better and to provide appropriate support. Separation has implications, not just for families with young children, as has been the subject of much recent research (Hogan et al., 2002; Mahon and Moore, 2011) but also for families with older adolescents and young adults. Women who separate in midlife have been found to be at greater risk of poverty (Weston and Smyth, 2000), and many may be living alone (Lunn et al., 2009). These findings are all issues which will have implications for the level of services and supports required by separated women and their families.

Literature on Separation and Divorce

It was very difficult to find studies which dealt specifically with women who separated in midlife. According to Smart (1999), there was some sympathy during the 1960s in the UK for older women whose husbands divorced them, but ‘what sympathy there was, quickly evaporated a decade later when they were re-defined as alimony drones and as women who were too idle to work’ (p. 8). It is not clear if this lack of sympathy also resulted in a lack of interest by researchers. For whatever reason, there is very little material published on this specific age group of women so the literature search for this study was quickly broadened to include material on separation and divorce which occurred at any age.

Much of the Irish literature referred to in this book deals with the events, structures and ideologies, mainly Catholic ideologies on gender and familism which have shaped Irish women’s lives over the past sixty ← 3 | 4 → years and have influenced their attitudes to marriage, family and separation (Inglis, 1998, 2003; O’Connor, 1998; Bacik, 2004; Connolly, 2015). A key premise of this study is that the experience of living through the changes from a society in which Catholic familist ideology was dominant to a more liberal society in which there are more choices about how people engage with and structure their families is likely to impact on women who currently separate in Ireland in midlife.


XII, 230
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (January)
Ireland Women Divorce Relationships Marital separation Marriage
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XII, 230 pp., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Lucy Hyland (Author)

Lucy Hyland has a background in social work. She is a lecturer in Applied Social Studies at Carlow College.


Title: Marital Separation in Contemporary Ireland
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243 pages