thecorknews.ie, Friday 19th February 2015
After months of review, The Children and Family Relationships Bill was approved and published this week, to mixed reviews.
In what Taoiseach Enda Kenny, described as “the most important change in family legislation since the foundation of the State,” the Bill specifies various rights in relation to adoption, guardianship, custody and access for different family situations, recognising the diversity of modern family life in Ireland.
Under one of the Bill’s provisions, cohabiting couples will be eligible to jointly adopt, provided they have lived together for more than three years. Under current legislation, unmarried couples are prohibited from this option, even where one of the parties is the biological or legal parent of the child. The new legislation also creates a pathway for the case in which the non–parent in a couple can apply for a certain level of guardianship, or custody, of a child, once he or she has lived with the parent for three years and looked after the child for two.
“We think that the bill will very positively impact on families and children in Ireland and it is imperative that it gets passed,” Beatrice Cronin of Treoir, the national federation of services for unmarried parents and their children told The Cork News.
The proposed legislation addresses the right of unmarried fathers to become automatic guardians of their children, if they have lived continuously with the child’s mother for a period of 12 months, including three months after the birth. The legislation falls short due to its lack of provision for the establishment of a central register for guardianship agreements, according to Ms. Cronin. The legislation provides for a national donor–conceived children’s register, but does not facilitate the introduction of a central repository that would keep track of guardianship agreements between unmarried parents. “It’s inconceivable not to have [a record of] it. What if something happens to the mother?” she said.
The legislation does not extend privileges to unmarried fathers living apart from their children.
Eamonn Quinn is part of Unmarried and Separated Parents of Ireland, a support group for parents in relationship difficulties. His daughter was only ten weeks old when he separated from her mother. “I was there a the birth and took an active role in her care but then I was kicked out and told I had no rights and I couldn’t see her,” he said. Mr Quinn criticises the legislation for falling short in helping those who live separately. “This legislation falls short [in addressing] the discrimination against unmarried fathers,” he said. The legislation is not foolproof, even for fathers who are cohabiting, he said: “How do you prove that you are living together, when there is no national database to substantiate the beginning of a relationship? This is a problem and they are doing nothing about it.”