The Children and FamilyRelationships Bill is the most comprehensive overhaul of family law in ageneration. The Bill reflects thereality of changes in family relationships which have occurred in Ireland overthe past 25 years. There are new rightsfor unmarried parents, and most importantly for children. The Bill seeks to ensure that those caringfor children are given rights, responsibilities and legal recognition. These include families with step-parents,families headed by co-habiting couples and gay or lesbian couples.
The aim of the Bill is tocreate a legal structure to underpin diverse parenting situations, and toprovide legal clarity on parental rights and duties.
A major development is inthe area of Guardianship. Non-marital fathers who cohabit with the mother oftheir child for a period of 12 months, to include 3 months after the birth ofthe child, will be entitled to automatic Guardianship. Guardianship is a very important concept inthat it allows a parent to have a say in the upbringing of a child, for examplewhere they attend school and in relation to medical issues. Given that in the second quarter of 2014, 36%of registered births were outside marriage, the new law pertaining toGuardianship is timely. An eligibleadult can apply for Guardianship who is married to, or in a Civil Partnershipwith a child’s parent, or who has cohabited with a child’s parent for 3 years andshared responsibility for the child’s care over a 2 year period.
Part III of the GeneralScheme of the Bill seeks to provide clarity and certainty in the legalrelationship between children born through Donor Assisted Human Reproduction(DAHR). Interestingly, there will be a furtherBill pertaining to DAHR which is expected to be introduced by the Department ofHealth in the autumn of 2015. In themeantime, this Bill provides for the establishment of a nationwide Register ofdonor conceived children. Hospitals andFertility Clinics will no longer be able to use anonymous gametes, as they hadbeen previously. The previous Heads ofthe Bill did not address this issue. However, following submissions from organisations including theChildren’s Rights Alliance; Barnardos and the Ombudsman for Children, who alladvocated for children born through DAHR to be able to access information abouttheir biological origins, this issue is now covered in the Bill. In this regard Ireland will now be in linewith other countries, for example England and Wales, the Netherlands, Norwayand Sweden who have abolished anonymous gamete donation.
The Bill is to be welcomedfor its fundamental overhaul of family law. It is due to be enacted in March 2015.
24 March 2015