Breakdown in relationships can be difficult for everyone involved, especially the children. The courts in Ireland recognise this fact, the safety and welfare of the children are their primary concern when dealing with family law matters, where children are involved.
Guardianship in Ireland describes the legal responsibility of parents to make decisions and perform duties in relation to their child’s upbringing. Married parents are automatically joint guardians of their children. Neither separation nor divorce changes this.
A father who is not married to the mother of his child does not have automatic guardianship rights in relation to that child.
Custody in Ireland refers to the day-to-day care, residency and upbringing of children who are regarded as dependant children. Dependant children in custody matters are children who are under the age of eighteen. In cases of judicial separation or divorce, one parent is usually granted custody. The children reside permanently with the parent who has custody and the other parent is granted access to the children at agreed times, which can include overnight access. It is possible for parents to continue to have joint custody of their children after separation/divorce and for the children to spend an equal amount of time with each parent if the parents can agree and arrange this.
Access refers to the right of the parent in Ireland with whom the child does not reside to spend time with the child. It can include the right to have the child stay overnight either occasionally, on alternate weekends or during school holidays and the right for parent and child to go on holidays together.
The parents may agree informally between themselves the arrangements for custody and access to the child.
Depending on the income and needs of either parent and children, maintenance may have to be paid by one of the parents/spouses. Children under 18 years, or 23 years if in full time education, are considered dependants. For the spouse, age, income and ability to take up employment will be considered for maintenance purposes.
The District Court can only award up to €500 per week to a spouse and €150 per child per week.
If a spouse wants to get more than these amounts they must apply to the Circuit Court. Maintenance payments can be paid on a fixed regular basis payments or in a lump sum. The maximum lump sum maintenance payment at District Court level is €6,348.
If a spouse fails to pay maintenance, an Attachment of Earnings Order can be sought from the court if the person is employed, on social welfare or on a private pension. The employer/organisation who pays the spouse can be ordered to deduct maintenance from his/her salary/payment.