Children’s Voices Must be Heard in Divorce Process

Leading one-parent family organisation One Family today held a seminar on children’s rights in the divorce process. On the tenth anniversary of divorce in Ireland, the seminar is a real opportunity to increase our understanding of children’s experience of divorce and how their needs can best be reflected in the legal process of divorce. ‘Families must be supported before, during and after divorce if we are to ensure the best outcomes for children’ said Candy Murphy, One Family’s Policy & Campaigns Manager.

The recently appointed Family Court Reporter Carol Coulter and the well-known barrister Inge Clissman SC will speak from their different perspectives about how children have experienced divorce in Ireland to date. This will open the debate about glaring gaps in the current system and the failure to enforce and resource legal protections for children.

One Family calls on the Government to ensure that the right of children to be heard in the divorce process is genuinely respected and that adequate resources are committed to ensure that the child’s right can be effectively realised. In particular, resources are required to ensure that the guardian ad litem service proposed in Section 28 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 (as amended by the Children Act 1997) will be available to represent the independent interests of children in divorce cases. [i] Although the child has a theoretical right to be heard in such cases, the procedures and resources necessary to realise this right remain lacking.

‘Without the necessary commitment to ensure children’s voices are heard’ said Candy Murphy, One Family’s Policy & Campaigns Manager, ‘such legal protection remains empty rhetoric. This seminar will provide the legal professionals and policy makers of today and of the future with the opportunity to hear from Scottish legal expert Rachael Kelsey about how Scotland has worked to ensure that children’s voices are genuinely heard.’

The seminar will also show how the radical effect of EU regulations on divorce in Ireland must be urgently addressed. ‘Having children’s rights is not sufficient, they must be capable of being enforced’ says Geoffrey Shannon, Government-appointed Special Rapporteur for Children. ‘Under the Brussels II Regulation, access orders handed down in one member state may only be recognised and enforceable in another member state if the child is heard in the country of origin. At the moment, no formal procedure or supports have been put in place to enable the Irish courts to implement this obligation. So, for example, an Irish access decision would only be recognised in Austria if the Irish judge held a hearing with the child in person.’

Commenting on the seminar One Family Director Karen Kiernan said, ‘I am delighted that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform has demonstrated his commitment to our seminar and the opportunity it provides to debate the issues surrounding divorce and children in a way that will inform future policy in this area.’

Ms Kiernan went on to say ‘we call on the Government to ensure that this commitment leads to real change for children and families going through divorce. A key step would be to fund One Family to use its 35 years’ of experience working with families to expand its services and develop a child contact centre which will work to support children in their right to have access to both parents.’[ii]


For further information or a copy of the full submission contact:
Ruth Coleman, Communications Manager 01 662 9212/086 174 2315
Candy Murphy, Policy & Campaigns Manager 01 662 9212

[i] The right of children to be heard is also enshrined in Article 12 of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:
‘1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.’
[ii] The right to know and, as far as possible, be cared for by both parents is enshrined in Article 7 of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
‘1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

2. States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.’