Unmarried fathers, cohabiting couples, civil partners and relatives of the child are given new rights in relation to guardianship, custody and access thanks to the Children and Family Relations Act 2015.

The 2015 Act has provided for a broad range of family structures and placed the best interests of the child as its paramount consideration.

The child’s best interest

The court must now have regard to:

  • The benefit to a child of having a meaningful relationship with his or her parents, Grandparents, relatives or other persons concerned
  • The physical, psychological and emotional needs of the child
  • The views of the child
  • The child’s age and any special characteristics
  • Proposals made for the child’s custody, care, development and upbringing
  • The history of the child’s upbringing
  • The capacity of each person to take care of the child
  • The child’s religious, spiritual cultural and linguistic upbringing and needs

Guardianship defined

Guardianship has always been hard to define but now The 2015 Act has set out the rights and responsibilities of a guardian:

  • Decide on the child’s place of residence
  • To make decisions on the child’s religious, spiritual, cultural and linguistic upbringing
  • To decide whom the child should live with
  • Consent to medical, dental and other health related treatment
  • Consent for a child to be placed for adoption

Unmarried Fathers & Automatic Guardianship

Under the 2015 Act the natural father can automatically become a guardian of his child if he lives with the child’s mother for at least 12 consecutive months, three of which were after the birth of the child. Whilst this goes a long way to improve the current situation of unmarried fathers, it does not bestow the same rights as the natural mother.

Non-parental Guardianship

Guardians need not be a parent. Guardianship applications can be taken by a party who has cohabited with the parent of the child and shared parental responsibility for the child’s day to day care for a period of 2 years or more.

In addition to the above the 2015 Act has made modernizing changes to adoption, guardianship, custody, access maintenance and assisted reproduction that has been a welcomed with open arms by the ever changing Irish family.

Elaine Corcoran
Corcoran & Company Solicitors