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Discuss the development of Irish Family Law in the area of marital breakdown.

Irish family law in the area of family breakdown has developed considerably over the decades. Under Articles 41 and 42 of the Irish Constitution, the family was accorded a special position. This traditional Catholic view of the family was challenged by the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act of 1989, which introduced the concept of judicial separation into Irish law. The breakdown of the traditional family unit was further expedited by a national referendum on divorce in 1995.

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The family unit in Irish law was traditionally defined according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which for many decades exerted enormous influence over public life. The family, whose status is enshrined in Articles 41 and 42 of the Irish Constitution, was conceived of as the product of a heterosexual union between a man and a woman within the bounds of holy matrimony.

Though these Articles still remain in operation, a substantive change in the status of the family has taken place, a change that has far-reaching implications for the issue of family breakdown. In 1989, the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act of 1989, while falling short of allowing divorce, did nonetheless introduce the concept of judicial separation into Irish law, which was itself a radical step forward.

However, it wouldn't be until six years later that the next step was taken to bring Irish family law up to date with that of other Western European countries. In 1995, the people of Ireland voted, by a tiny majority, to legalize divorce. It was a major development in a country still under the influence of the Catholic Church. In the following year, Article 41 of the Irish Constitution was changed, and divorce was finally made legal by the enactment of the Family Law (Divorce) Act of 1996.

In the wake of the marriage equality referendum in 2015, the Irish government enacted further legislation relating to family law, the Children and Family Relationships Act, that allowed family courts to make decisions in the best interests of the child, irrespective of the type of family structure concerned.

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