Applications for custody can be made to the District Court and most applications are made to that court. If the parents are married, custody arrangements will usually be part of an application for judicial separation or divorce in the Circuit Court.
Where the parents are not married, the mother will have sole custody of the child. The father can apply for joint custody, or, in certain circumstances, for sole custody.
When the court is deciding on custody orders, the most important factor will be the welfare of the child or children.
In January 2016, certain provisions of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 came into effect which allow certain other people to apply to the court for custody of a child or children. These people are:
- A relative of the child;
- A parent’s spouse, civil partner or cohabitant (of at least 3 years duration) with whom the child lives and where they shared the parenting of the child for at least 2 years;
- A person with whom the child lives, if they have provided the child’s day-to-day care for at least a year and there is no parent or guardian willing or able to exercise the powers and responsibilities of guardianship.
Court rules set out the procedure to be followed to obtain orders from the court. They also include the forms you must complete to make an application.
Custody hearings are heard “otherwise than in public”, which means that only officers of the Court, the parties to the proceedings, and their legal representatives, witnesses or other persons allowed by the Judge at his or her discretion are allowed to be present.