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Child and Family Relationships Bill 2015

February 23, 2015

This brief provides a short overview of the Child and Family Relationships Bill, which was approved by Cabinet on February 17th 2015 and is due to be enacted by the government in March.

The Bill is a much-called for child-centred reform of family law intended to address the needs of children living in diverse families. It makes provision for parentage, guardianship, custody and access across a range of family situations that are not addressed adequately in current law.

Different ministers and their departments will be responsible for the different parts of the Bill, including the Minister for Health (provisions relating to donor assisted reproduction), the Minister for Social Protection (provisions amending the Civil Registration Act 2004) and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (provisions relating to adoption).

So far the Bill has received warm welcome. Barnardos and the Children’s Rights Alliances have welcomed the Bill for furthering the implementation of children’s rights by leading to greater equality for children in the eyes of the law. The Bill also received a broad welcome across the political spectrum and favourable coverage in the printed media. However, according to The Irish Times, Fianna Fail have raised concerns that normal parliamentary procedure is being set aside to get it passed in time for the same-sex marriage referendum in May, which Minister Fitzgerald has reassured will not happen, while a newly-formed organisation, Mothers and Fathers Matter, have called for the Bill to be “radically amended” because the Bill, according to Professor Ray Kinsella, “promotes arrangements under which children would be ‘intentionally denied’ either a mother or a father” (The Irish Times, 17th February 2015).

In short, the Bill extends guardianship, custody and adoption rights to different family situations. It does so by:

a) providing for automatic guardianship to unmarried fathers
b) enabling grandparents and other relatives to have easier access 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
c) providing for adoption by same-sex couples
d) providing a legal framework for children born through donor-assisted reproduction

 

 

In greater detail, the Bill outlines the following amendments:

 

Guardianship

  • sets out who, other than a child’s parents, can apply for guardianship in respect of a child
  • enables a wider range of unmarried father to become guardians of their child automatically
  • enables a parent’s spouse, civil partner or cohabitant (of not less than three years’ duration) to apply to the court to become a guardian with restricted powers limited to decisions on day-to-day matters (where s/he has co-parented the child for 2 years)
  • enables a guardian parent to appoint a temporary guardian for his/her child, through a court-based process, where the parent is suffering from serious illness or injury which prevent him or her from exercising his or her guardianship responsibilities in respect of the child

 

 

Custody and Access

  • enables a relative to apply for custody of a child
  • enables grandparents and other relatives to have access more easily to children in the context of relationship breakdown
  • puts in place a set of enforcement procedures in relation to custody and access

 

 

Parentage of children born through donor Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR)

  • enables a birth mother’s partner to become the child’s second parent if s/he consented to the AHR treatment
  • calls for clear consents as to the status of all parties – the birth mother, second ‘social’ parent and the donor
  • enables a parent’s civil or cohabiting partner to become a full guardian of a child born to the couple jointly even if the civil / cohabiting partner cannot fulfil the conditions necessary to be recognised as a parent
  • enables the birth mother and the partner to be able to register the birth of the child jointly (rather than requiring them to undertake court proceedings to establish parentage)
  • enables a child born through donor AHR to be able to trace his/her genetic identity through a national donor-conceived person register

 

 

Adoption eligibility and Parental/Maternity leave extended

  • civil partners and cohabiting couples who have lived together for 3 years will be eligible to apply to adopt jointly
  • one member of a civil partnered or cohabiting same-sex couple will be enabled to qualify for adoptive leave
  • the rights held by fathers in respect of parental leave and maternity leave will be extended to second female parents

 

The summary of the Bill has been adapted from Mary Minihan, “Cabinet approves Bill allowing adoption by same-sex couples”, 17th February 2015, The Irish Times (online)

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