Children and Family Relationships Bill is a Good First Step but We Have Concerns

Press Release

Children & Family Relationships Bill provides first steps to a modern Family Law system in Ireland –

but One Family warns that family law courts need the resources to do their job properly for all children

(Dublin, Thursday 30 January 2014) One Family – Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families in Ireland today welcomes the publication of the Heads of the Children & Family Relationships Bill 2014 by Minister Alan Shatter. As an organisation that has campaigned for over 40 years for legal recognition and support for the wide diversity of families that children live in, we believe this Bill is a good first step that is long overdue.

Karen Kiernan, One Family CEO explains: “This Bill when enacted will provide a higher level of legal security for some of the diverse one-parent families that children live in. We are particularly pleased to see that people who have caring responsibility for children such as step-parents will be able to apply for guardianship, that it will be easier for extended family members such as grandparents to gain contact with their grandchildren and that more non-marital fathers will become guardians automatically of their children.”

However, One Family has some serious concerns about how aspects of the Bill can really be implemented given the serious resource restrictions that exist, and the lack of consistency and specialist knowledge that can characterise some family law proceedings and the requirement to hear children’s voices.

Kiernan continues: “We are very concerned about the lack of family assessments available to judges in family law courts which can be essential when upholding the principle of ‘a child’s best interest’. We have seen that it is extremely difficult to make nuanced and life-changing decisions without full, impartial information on what is going on in a family. A robust court welfare system will need to be put in place that can assess issues such as child protection, domestic violence, parental capacity so that judges can make informed, reasoned decisions. Such a system could also effectively hear the voice of children of all ages. The current Heads indicates that the costs of such reports, counselling, mediation or parenting courses as ordered by court will be borne by the parents involved and this is not realistic for many families.

It is time that a standardised, holistic, family-centred approach is taken to family law in Ireland where the starting point has to be the child and their family rather than the traditions of the legal system. The Bill is well-intentioned but will need an implementation plan with an attached budget to really make a difference.”

Part of what Minister Shatter is working to resolve is in relation to parenting orders and plans that are not adhered to. One Family offers a range of specialist counselling and parenting supports to people going through separation, sharing parenting of their children as well as those who parent alone. One Family also ran the two pilot Child Contact Centres over the past three years in partnership with Barnardos – a service that is now closed due to lack of government funding.

Karen Kiernan further explains: “Whilst much of this Bill is an excellent improvement on what was there, there is a big miss in relation to Child Contact Centres which are not mentioned. They have been proven to be needed and effective in reducing the dangers for children in high conflict families, in ensuring parenting orders work and in supporting families to move on to self-arranged contact. No Government department has been willing to continue funding them and they are not provided for in the Heads of Bill as a necessary service for courts.”

About One Family

One Family was founded in 1972 and is Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families offering support, information and services to all members of all one-parent families, to those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and to those working with one-parent families. Children are at the centre of One Family’s work and the organisation helps all the adults in their lives, including mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents, new partners and other siblings, offering a holistic model of specialist family support services. These services include the lo-call askonefamily national helpline on 1890 622 212, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. One Family also promotes the Family Day Festival, an annual celebration of the diversity of families in Ireland today, with 10,000 people attending in 2013 ( For further information, visit

Available for Interview

Karen Kiernan, CEO | t: 01 662 9212 or 086 850 9191

Further Information/Scheduling

Shirley Chance, Director of Communications | t: 01 662 9212 or 087 414 8511

Ten Points of Interest from the Children and Family Relationships Bill

The heads of the Children and Family Relationships Bill are likely to be published next month by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.  The Children and Family Relationships Bill 2013 is intended to create a legal structure to underpin diverse parenting situations and provide legal clarity on parental rights and duties in diverse family forms. We have summarised ten points of interest from the Bill below:

  1. The Bill is a legal framework for family law issues such as guardianship, custody, access and the raising of children in the diverse family forms that are part of today’s society. These families may be made up of married families, co-habiting and civilly partnered couples as well as extended family members, such as grandparents, who may be caring for children.  It also reflects the recent provision made in the Children’s Referendum in 2012 for constitutional change
  2. There is a need for improved supports for the courts in matters of family law and childcare cases in order to ensure that orders, made in the best interests of children, are complied with.
  3. It is intended to increase the number of non-marital fathers who are automatically legal guardians by providing that a non-marital father is a guardian of his child if he has been co-habiting with the child’s mother for at least a year before the child’s birth, and in situations where the cohabitation ends less than 10 months before the birth (if the relationship ends)
  4. It is intended that others in a parenting role with the child may apply for guardianship, be they civil partners, step-parents, those living with the biological or adoptive parents as well as those acting in loco parentis for a time.  This is in instances where the child does not have more than two guardians.
  5. It is intended to establish that the best interests of the child is paramount in considering decisions on custody, access and guardianship.
  6. It is intended that provisions will be put in place to support parenting with penalties for parents who do not meet access or maintenance orders
  7. Guidance will be given to the court as to what constitutes the best interest of the child, including needs and views of the child, history of upbringing and care as well as having regard to any family/domestic violence and its impact on the safety of the child and other family members.
  8. Access will be simplified, removing the two stage process that currently exists for a person other than a parent seeking access to a child.
  9. Children aged over 12 must be consulted in relation to applications for guardianship, custody and access
  10. There are also proposals to look at making parent-related orders work, when a parent or guardian does not comply with court orders on custody or access to the child.

For further information on the Bill, take a look at the following link to the Department of Justice website:

The Children and Family Relationships Bill 2013