Family law | Legal Guides

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Family law aims to protect the rights of citizens when relationships break down, or where children are in danger of harm.

You can find out more about these issues via the links below.

 

Talk to your solicitor

The information provided here is intended as a guide only and is not a substitute for professional advice. If you have a legal issue, you should talk to a solicitor who has the skills to help you.

No responsibility is accepted for any errors or omissions, howsoever arising.

The Child Care Act 1991 and the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 provide for the state care of children when this is in their best interest. You can find out more about this in the links below.

The Child and Family Agency (Tusla)

The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) is responsible for promoting the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care. These responsibilities include:

  • Identifying children who are not receiving adequate care and protection, and coordinating relevant information.
  • Providing child care and family support services to help parents to care for their children where possible.
  • Applying to the Court for Care Orders where necessary, and arranging for the care of children through foster care or other arrangements.
  • Preparing annual reports on the adequacy of care that children are receiving.

Types of Care Orders

In some cases, a parent may agree to his or her child being taken into the care of Túsla. This is called voluntary care.

However, Tusla can also apply to the Court for Care Orders when it believes that children are at risk or in need of care. Information on the types of care orders that can be given is below.

Care Orders

Tusla can apply for a Care Order if it believes that a child needs care and protection that he or she is unlikely to receive without an order. This can be granted if the Court is satisfied that:

  • The child has been or is being ill-treated, neglected or abused or that the child's health, development or welfare has been or is likely to be impaired or neglected.
  • The child needs care and protection which he or she is unlikely to receive without a care order.

The Court can grant a Care Order for any length of time up to the age of 18. The Court can also grant an Interim Care Order lasting up to 29 days. While the Care Order is in force, Tusla has the rights and duties of a parent towards the child.

Emergency Care Orders

If An Garda Siochána believe that there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child, they can enter the family home and remove him or her to safety. That child must then be placed in the care of Tusla as soon as possible.

Tusla can apply for an Emergency Care Order when this has happened, or for a child who is still at home. The Court will grand the order if the judge is convinced that there is immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of the child. An Emergency Care Order can last for up to eight days.

Special Care Orders

If a child’s behaviour poses a risk to his or her health, safety, development or welfare, Tusla can apply for a Special Care Order. A judge will grand a Special Care Order if he or she is convinced that:

  • The child's behaviour poses a real and substantial risk to his/her health, safety, development or welfare.
  • The child needs special care and protection which he/she is unlikely to get without such an order.

The Special Care Order authorises Tusla to provide appropriate care and treatment, detaining the child in a special care unit. A Court will initially grant a Special Care Order for a period of three to six months, which can be extended. The court can grant an Interim Special Care Order lasting for up to 28 days.

Supervision Orders

Instead of taking a child into care, Tusla can apply for a Supervision Order. This gives Tusla the authority to visit and monitor the health and welfare of a child, and to give advice to his or her parents. It can be granted for up to 12 months.

More information

You can find out more about the care system, and the ways that Tusla provides care to children, from the Citizens Information Website.

Tusla provides information on its work, and related information, through its own website.

If you or your family are affected by the issues raised above, you may wish to speak to a solicitor.

  • Find a Solicitor

If you cannot afford the services of a solicitor, Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) provide free advice through nationwide clinics.

Under the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, some cohabitating couples now have legal rights in relation to their cohabitating partner. This includes a right to seek maintenance from the other partner, or apply for financial provision from his or her estate.

You can find out more about this using the links below:

The law in this area is highly complex. If you may be affected by this legislation, you should talk to your solicitor.

Qualifying as a cohabitant

To qualify as a cohabitating couple under the law, a person must show that they lived in “an intimate and committed” relationship with their former partner. This includes proving that the couple lived together for five years or more, or for two years if the couple have any dependant children.

To decide whether a person was part of a cohabiting couple, the Court will also consider:

  • The contributions of each person in looking after the home.
  • The earning capacity of each partner, and financial dependence of either partner on the other.
  • The degree to which they presented themselves to others as a couple.
  • Whether there are children.

Orders that the Court can make

If a Court decides that a person was part of a cohabiting couple, it can make a number of orders with a significant impact on both sides. These include:

  • Property adjustment orders.
  • Maintenance orders.
  • Pension adjustment orders.
  • Orders in relation to an estate.

Time limits

If a person is seeking an order under the legislation, he or she must apply to the Court within two years of the relationship ending.

Because of this short time-frame, a person who may qualify as a cohabitant should seek legal advice as soon as possible after a relationship ends.

If one person in a relationship is being threatened or abused by another, he or she can seek protection from the Court.

For more information, please click on the links below.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is the physical, emotional, sexual or mental abuse of one person by another within a close, intimate or family relationship.

Domestic violence can affect a diverse range of victims and perpetrators, including spouses, children, parents or partners.

Who can seek protection?

The following people may apply for orders under the domestic violence legislation:

  • Spouses may seek protection from each other;
  • Members of a cohabiting couple, who are not married but living together, may seek protection from each other. A court can only grant a Safety Order if the victim and perpetrator lived together for six months in the 12 months before the application was made. The Court can grant a Barring Order if the victim and perpetrator lived together for six months in the nine months before the application was made.
  • People living in the same residence may seek protection from each other. However, if the Court finds that a contractual relationship existed between the two people, it will not grant a barring order. The only option available in this case is a Safety Order.
  • Parents may seek protection from a child who is over the age of 18 year.
  • Parents may seek protection on behalf of a child.
  • The Child and Family Agency may seek protection on behalf of a person, and/or that person’s dependent children, if he or she cannot apply.

If an alleged perpetrator owns a joint place of residence, or has greater ownership rights than the person seeking protection, the Court will not grant a barring order against him or her.

What protection can be given?

The Court can provide four different types of protection:

Barring Order

A Barring Order forces the alleged perpetrator to leave the family home. It also prohibits him or her from any further acts of violence, threats of violence, and from watching or being near the family home. A Barring Order can be granted for up to three years.

Interim Barring Order

In exceptional circumstances, the Court can grant an Interim Barring Order while a person waits for a full hearing on a Barring Order. This requires the alleged perpetrator to leave the family home immediately.

Protection order

A Protection Order is a temporary Safety Order, granted when a person applies for a Safety Order or a Barring Order.

The Protection Order lasts until the full court hearing on the application for a Safety Order or a Barring Order.

Safety Order

A Safety Order prohibits a person from using or threatening violence against another person, or doing so towards that person’s children.

If the alleged perpetrator does not live with the victim, it will bar him or her from watching or being near the victim’s home. However, it does not oblige the alleged perpetrator to leave the family home.

A court can grant a Safety Order for up to five years.

Penalties for breaching orders

Anyone who contravenes a Safety Order, Barring Order, Interim Barring Order or Protection Order is guilty of an offence.

Those offences are punishable by a Class B fine (up to €4,000) and a prison term of up to 12 months.

Useful links and resources

If you are concerned about domestic violence, you can contact An Garda Siochána. Members of An Garda Siochána are specially trained to assist people in this situation.

Citizens Information Centres can provide information about organisations that support victims of domestic violence, depending on your circumstances.

You can find out more about domestic and sexual violence, as well as local and national support services, from the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (Cosc).

Find out more about separation and divorce using the links below.

Talk to your solicitor

The end of a marriage or civil partnership is a life-changing event. The law in this area is highly complex.

To represent your interests, you should get independent legal advice.

Separation

When a marriage or civil partnership breaks down, and a couple intend to live separately, they may enter into a separation agreement.

If a couple cannot agree terms for living separately, either person can apply for a decree of judicial separation. If a couple have agreed the terms of their separation, they may also apply for a decree of separation to formalise the agreement.

Separation agreements

A separation agreement may cover issues such as:

  • Who should live in the family home.
  • What should happen to any other property that the couple own.
  • Where any dependant children should live, and access arrangements.
  • Whether either person should make maintenance payments to the other.

If a couple wishes to negotiate an agreement through solicitors, each person should have their own solicitor to represent their interests.

A couple may prefer to negotiate an agreement through mediation. The Law Society maintains a register of solicitors who are also trained mediators.

After agreement

When an agreement is reached, drawn up, and signed by both parties, it is usually called a Deed of Separation. This is a legally binding contract.

The parties can apply to make this contract a rule of court. This means that, when the appropriate law applies, the terms agreed between the two people can be legally enforced. You can find out about making a separation agreement a rule of court on the Courts Service website. Either party can also apply for a decree of judicial separation to formalise the agreement.

Judicial Separation

Any person can apply for a decree of judicial separation from his or her spouse. An application must cite one of the following grounds:

  • Adultery.
  • One person has behaved in such a way that it would be unreasonable to expect the other person to continue to live with them.
  • One person has deserted the other for a continuous period of at least one year.
  • The couple have lived apart from one another for a continuous period of at least one year, and both parties agree to the decree being granted.
  • The couple have lived apart from one another for at least three years.
  • The Court considers that a normal marital relationship has not existed between the spouses for at least one year.

Applying for a decree of judicial separation

A person can apply for a decree of judicial separation by lodging an original family law civil bill and two copies in the Circuit Court Office.

The bill should set out the main points of a person’s claim, details of the law under which the person is making a claim, and any orders or reliefs (such as maintenance payments) being sought.

A person applying for a decree of judicial separation must also lodge two important documents:

  • The Affidavit of Means.
  • The Affidavit of Welfare.

The Affidavit of Means lists all of a person’s assets, income details, debts and liabilities, pension information, and regular expenditure.

The Affidavit of Welfare sets out information on any dependent children, including living and access arrangements, and any special education or health needs that they have.

If an applicant is making a claim on a spouse’s pension, he or she must file a notice to trustees.

The Circuit Court Office will retain the original, and give two copies to the applicant. The applicant must have one of these copies served (delivered) to his or her spouse.

You can find more information on the process, and the forms involved, on the Courts Service website.

Divorce

To legally end a marriage, a person (or persons) must seek a decree of divorce. Find out more about this process using the links below:

What is divorce?

A decree of divorce dissolves the marriage contract. This terminates certain rights, including succession rights. It also gives either party the right to remarry.

If you or your spouse intends to seek a decree of divorce, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Your solicitor will help you to consider the divorce proceedings, and alternatives that can include:

  • Entering into a separation agreement that does not require attending court.
  • Negotiating the terms of divorce, which can be ruled in court by agreement.

The divorce process

If you issue divorce proceedings, your solicitor will issue a Family Law Civil Bill and serve it on your spouse.

The Bill will include an Affidavit of Means (listing assets, income details, debts and liabilities, pension information, and regular expenditure) and an Affidavit of welfare (containing information on any dependent children, including living and access arrangements, and any special education or health needs that they you).

If your spouse wishes to contest the divorce, he or she will file a Defence and Counterclaim.

If you can negotiate a divorce agreement with your spouse, then you can apply to the Court for a date to rule on the consent divorce. If you cannot negotiate an agreement at any stage of the process, the case will proceed to a full trial.

If you are able to negotiate a divorce agreement with your spouse, or your spouse does not contest the divorce, it may take up to six months to secure a date to rule on the consent divorce. If your spouse contests the divorce, the process could take significantly longer.

More information

You can find out more about the divorce process, and download relevant forms, from the Courts Service website.

If you or your family are affected by the issues raised in this section, you can find more information and access services using the links below.

We also recommend that you seek independent legal advice.

An Garda Siochána

If you are concerned about domestic violence, or other crime, you can contact your local Garda station.

Citizens Information Centres

Citizens Information Centres can provide information about organisations that support victims of domestic violence, depending on your circumstances.

Cosc

The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (Cosc) provides help, support and information for those affected by domestic or sexual violence.

Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC)

Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) provide free legal advice through nationwide clinics.

The Courts Service

You can find information for service users, forms, and contact details for services, on the Courts Service website.