Much of the debate about the marriage referendum has been focussed on family law issues but the referendum itself will not affect these. Significant changes have already been introduced, not by any laws connected to the referendum, but by the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.
The Act makes changes to the law on adoption and guardianship of children, including connected issues like custody and access. Notably, it provides that an unmarried father of a child will automatically be its guardian if he lived with the mother for 12 months, at least 3 of which must have been post-birth. Previously only the mother and a married father were automatic guardians. The Act also introduces significant clarity for children born through assisted human reproduction (AHR) and sets out a framework of parentage.
An important point to note is that while the Act has been passed and was signed into law by the President in April 2015 it has not, at the time of writing, been commenced. This means that it must be activated by the Minster for Justice. It is expected that it could take up to 12 months or more for the Act to be fully implemented and during that time it will be necessary for State agencies to update their procedures and documentation to prepare for it. New rules of court will be required to facilitate the applications which will be amended or introduced by the Act.
The Act reinforces the importance of court decisions being made in the best interests of the child and will have a significant impact, particularly on District Court applications for access and custody. If the Act affects you it is important to take specific advice on its provisions and how they are relevant to your circumstances. Contact us to discuss how the Act is relevant to you.