Minister Fitzgerald announces Government approval to publish the Children and Family Relationships Bill

February 19th, 2015
  • Child-centred reform at the heart of landmark bill to modernise family law
  • Protects and clarifies relationships for children living in diverse families
  • Minister Fitzgerald describes it as “A legal bedrock upon which the diversity of families will be valued, nurtured and recognised in today’s Ireland.”

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, today announced Government approval of the Children and Family Relationships Bill.The Bill provides crucial legal support and protection for children in their relationships with those parenting them. This may include married or unmarried parents, a parent’s partner, grandparents or relatives.The Bill enables grandparents and other relatives to have access more easily to children in the context of relationship breakdown, and to apply for custody if there is no parent willing or able to take responsibility for caring for the child.This reform of family law is a major step forward,” the Minister said. “It’s a substantial and detailed response to the reality of family life in Ireland today.”It provides for parentage, guardianship, custody and access across situations that are not addressed adequately in current law.

The Bill addresses the need of children for security in their family situations whether living with:

  • their married parents;
  • their unmarried parents;
  • a parent and the parent’s partner; or
  • with a grandparent or other relative who is parenting the child.

It includes provisions for children being parented by same-sex couples and covers children who have been born through donor assisted human reproduction (AHR).

“This is a major reform of family law which so clearly sets out to vindicate the equal right of every child to the recognition of their families.” the Minister said.

 ”It provides a legal bedrock upon which the diversity of families will be valued, recognised and protected in today’s Ireland. It addresses the identity issue of children born through donor AHR, as recommended in the 2005 Report of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction and the Report of the Law Reform Commission in 2010.”                                                                           

The Minister continued: “In summary, the Bill acknowledges just how much family life has changed in recent decades and puts a firm and detailed protective framework around children. It articulates, for the first time, rights for grandparents and others whose relationship with a child is often sundered against their will – and the child’s will – because of a breakdown in relationships.”

A parent’s husband or civil partner, or a parent’s cohabiting partner will be able to apply for guardianship where he or she has co-parented the child for two years.

The Bill will extend eligibility to adopt a child to civil partners and to cohabiting couples who have lived together for three years. Adoptive leave will be extended to one member of the civil partnered or same-sex cohabiting couple.

A wider range of unmarried fathers will become guardians of their child. “The rights of fathers are rightly recognised in this Bill by extending automatic guardianship to unmarried fathers who have lived with the mother of their child for 12 months and played an active role in parenting their child,” the Minister said.

“The requirement that a non-marital father, in order to qualify for automatic guardianship,  must cohabit with a child and the child’s mother for a specified period is a recognition of the importance of the responsibility of guardianship.”

The court’s powers will be enhanced to support joint parenting after breakups and the child’s views may be ascertained in court proceedings on guardianship, custody and access, including through the appointment of an expert. The Bill defines, for the first time, factors that a court can take into account in defining a child’s best interests, such as meaningful relationships, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being as well as issues such as family violence.

“In placing the best interests of the child as paramount, this Bill will for the first time, define the factors that can be considered by the court as relevant in determining the best interests of the child,” the Minister said.

The establishment of a national donor-conceived child register means that hospitals and clinics which offer donor assisted human reproduction facilities will be obliged to seek specified personal information from the donor to allow for the tracing by their identity and to verify their consent to donate.

“I strongly supported the principle that a donor-conceived child should be able to trace his or her identity. This is a critically important element in the regulation of donor assisted human reproduction at the start of the process where the use of donors is involved. As a result, anonymous donation will be prohibited.”

The Minister concluded: “The Government through this comprehensive family law Bill recognises that a caring Ireland cannot sustain the absence of adequate legislative provisions to cater for the rights of the growing number of diverse families in Ireland today.”

Following arrangements for final proofing and printing, the Bill will be formally published on Thursday.

Editors Note:

The Government’s commitment to the Child and Family Relationships Bill arises in a context of demographic data which confirms that more children than ever are living in diverse family situations.

Census 2011 has indicated that Irish families are increasingly diverse and that an increasing percentage of children are living in family types other than those headed by married parents.

The census data indicated that:

  • There were 215,315 lone parent households in 2011.
  • 17, 378 lone parents were living in multi-family households.
  • There were 4,042 same-sex couples living together in 2011.
  • 66% of the 115,046 divorced or separated women were living with their children.
  • There were 49,005 households of cohabiting couples with children under 15.
  • The number of children living in households headed by cohabiting couples increased by 41% between 2006 and 2011.

The Central Statistics Office’s Vital Statistics data also confirms that the number of children being born outside marriage or civil partnership is

  • 25,190 children were born outside marriage or civil partnership in 2011.
  • 25,344 were born outside marriage or civil partnership in 2012.

Click here to read the Summmary and Provisions of this Bill (PDF)