The Children and Family Relationship Act 2015 came in to force on the 18 January 2016. The Act introduces major changes to Irish law relating to the care of children.
The Act allows fathers the automatic right to become guardians of their children and also extends guardianship rights to new persons.
A man who can demonstrate that he has been residing with the mother of his child for one year – three months of which was after the child’s birth – can now obtain a declaration to make him guardian of his child. The Act is not retrospective as only time living with a child after the 18 January 2016 will be taken into account.
Step parents, Civil Partners and Cohabitants
Step parents, civil partners and cohabitants who have been in a relationship with a parent for three years and have been co-parenting the child for two years can now apply to become a limited guardian with power to make day-to-day decisions about the child.
Where a child has been cared for by a grandparent for more than one year and where there is no one else to take on the responsibilities of a guardian, a grandparent can be appointed guardian.
An existing guardian can nominate someone to be guardian of their child for a specified period of time and in relation to certain matters. This may become necessary due to illness or temporary incapacity. For example, where the father of the child has died and the mother then becomes ill, a grandparent or other person nominated will find it easier to effectively care for the child where they have the authority conferred by a guardianship order.
Other features of the Act
Enforcement of Access Orders
The powers of the courts in relation to enforcing access orders have also been extended. The courts may now:
- order a parent who does not comply with an Access Order give more access to the parent denied access;
- order that the denied parent be reimbursed any expenses incurred by him or her due to the non-compliance; and
- order that parent to attend a parenting course or family counselling.
Maintenance by Cohabitant Guardian
The Act introduces a duty on a person acting as parent to pay maintenance for a child where he or she is a guardian of that child whether or not they are also a parent of that child.
Step in the right direction?
The 2011 Census found that there were 215,000 families with unmarried parents, and that 44 per cent of the parents had never been married. These figures reflect the rapidly changing landscape of families in Ireland and so it was necessary to ensure our laws on families were “fit for purpose” in the 21st century.
In particular, the method of enforcement of access orders has always been problematic in practice as imprisonment is not a favourable way to compel any parent to comply with an order. It is also timely that the rights of fathers are automatically recognised under law, as well as the recognition of the input of grandparents as carers to children.