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Divorce called off: McIlroy reconciles on the eve of the US open

It made the headlines last month when the golfer Rory McIlroy’s wife Erica Stoll was reportedly served with divorce papers at the marital home in Florida. Press reports quoted sources who said this ‘came out of the blue’.  Now there are even more headlines since McIlroy’s divorce has been “called off”, with McIlroy’s US attorney having filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal on his behalf in the Palm Beach County Courthouse. 

McIlroy was quoted by The Guardian as saying “There have been rumours about my personal life recently, which is unfortunate. Responding to each rumour is a fool’s game. Over the past weeks, Erica and I have realised that our best future was as a family together. Thankfully, we have now resolved our differences and look forward to a new beginning.”

McIlroy’s divorce petition of 13 May 2024 gave Erica 20 days to file a counterclaim or risk having the court grant the divorce by default. It is understood that Erica had failed to lodge any response or register an attorney by that 2 June 2024 deadline. 

Having married in April 2017, and with a three year old daughter, it is apparent that the couple are keen to salvage the relationship and the timing may be relevant, given that this reconciliation has occurred on the eve of the US open in North Carolina; McIlroy told the pre-tournament conference at Pinehurst that he felt ‘more confident than ever’ in terms of winning a fifth major, but this follows a decade-long major drought, with McIlroy having failed to add to his majors titles since lifting the PGA Championship’s Wanamaker Trophy in August 2014. 

As a family lawyer, I have seen couples reconcile for a variety of reasons and having young children together can be a relevant factor. It is also possible that, where there is a couple with international links, one spouse may rush to issue a divorce application in order to ensure that financial matters are dealt with in a country or state where they are likely to have a more favourable financial outcome than otherwise, in a process often labelled ‘forum shopping’. Such a rush to secure a favourable forum can mean that the full implications of a divorce have not been considered properly, which leads to there being a chance for a reconciliation following a period of reflection. 

On occasion, when couples reconcile, the divorce process has reached a relatively advanced stage and it may be necessary to apply to rescind a conditional order of divorce (formerly called the decree nisi), which is the interim stage in the divorce process, as well as dismiss the initial application. New legislation introduced in England and Wales on 6 April 2022 provides for a minimum period of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and the application for a conditional order, which the government has described as providing couples with a meaningful period of reflection and the chance to reconsider. Such a mandatory ‘cooling off’ period may mean that there is a greater chance of the couple reconciling but time will tell as to whether that does happen in practice or if this period is merely delaying the inevitable. 

The new legislation also introduced the option of a couple issuing a joint application for a divorce, whereas previously only one spouse could be the applicant. The Office for National Statistics released their latest figures in February 2024 (for divorces in 2022), with this being the first year that the data includes divorces and dissolutions under the new legislation. Of the divorces in 2022, 28.8% were made by way of a joint application. Where both parties have reached the decision to divorce, this may mean that a reconciliation is more unlikely, than if it was the decision of one spouse alone to issue divorce proceedings, where there may be more scope for the respondent spouse to convince their spouse that they should attempt a reconciliation. 

It has been reported that the divorce rate is between 60% and 80% for professional athletes compared to a divorce rate for Americans generally of approximately 50%. The commitment and dedication required by a sporting career, combined with the onerous travel commitments, can prove taxing on family life, whilst having a public profile can also be a relevant factor in a divorce. In McIlroy’s case, the ongoing support and encouragement of his wife may prove invaluable in terms of his sporting career, with the stability that it brings to his family life.

“Over the past weeks, Erica and I have realised that our best future was as a family together. Thankfully, we have resolved our differences and look forward to a new beginning.”

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