Ireland has eight circuits and court sittings vary in length from one day to three weeks and are generally held every 2 to 4 months in each venue in the circuit. However the Circuit Courts in Dublin and Cork sit continuously throughout the year.
The Circuit Court can deal with most family law disputes including judicial separation, divorce, nullity and appeals from the District Court.
In the context of applications for orders relating to the status of a relationship, the Circuit Court has the power to make related orders, including custody and access orders, maintenance and remedial orders in response to incidents of domestic violence. Applications for protection and barring orders may also be made directly to the Circuit Court. Applications to dispense with the three month notice period of marriage are also dealt with by the Circuit Court.
The person who seeks an order or other remedy from the court is called the Applicant; the person against whom the application is made is called the Respondent.
In order to bring a matter before the Circuit Court, the Applicant issues proceedings against the Respondent typically by issuing a Family Law Civil Bill, or by appealing an existing decision of the District Court. Each Circuit Court has a Circuit Court office and assistance is available to members of the public from the clerks in each office.
Family law court proceedings are held in private, referred to as ‘in camera’ (so no one from the public can attend only the parties involved and their legal team if applicable).
Procedural matters leading up to the actual hearing of the court case, such as setting the date for the hearing, are not held in private, everyone can attend the courtroom, and these house-keeping matters are often dealt with by a senior court official called the “County Registrar” rather than by a Judge.
The Circuit Court can make a ruling on separation and divorce where all matters are agreed between the couple already (often referred to as a ruling made ‘on consent’) or it can hear matters in disagreement and the judge will make a ruling based on the evidence before him and make the appropriate court orders.
To begin a case one of the parties needs to ‘issue proceedings’, which requires the Applicant to fill out the necessary paperwork and provide the necessary documents to have a summons issued. For example in judicial separation or divorce proceedings, the Applicant files a Family Law Civil Bill, Affidavit of Means, and Affidavit of Welfare.
Once issued in the relevant Circuit Court office, the Family Law Civil Bill and supporting documentation must be served on the Respondent in accordance with the Circuit Court rules which are available on the court service website www.courts.ie. The Respondent must in turn enter an appearance and file a defence to the proceedings. There are templates of the required documents available from the Circuit Court office and/or available on the court service website.
Where a party is a lay litigant, a person not represented by a solicitor, it is wise to call to the Circuit Court office in advance to make sure all paperwork is in order and all necessary information is to hand.
The FLAC website offers very informative documents explaining all aspects of Maintenance, including the process surrounding a court application; Domestic Violence, including an explanation of the remedies available and how the process works; and Family law and children; explaining the processes surrounding guardianship, custody and access applications.
The Legal Aid Board has also produced very useful documents explaining all aspects of Maintenance, Domestic Violence, Children and Family law; explaining the processes surrounding guardianship, custody and access applications.
The Courts Service website has a family law webpage; within this page is a very informative section on court procedure
For further information
Legal Aid Board
- Address: Legal Aid Board, Quay Street, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry.
- Tel: (066) 947 1000 Lo-call No: 1890 615 200 Fax: (066) 947 1035
- Website: http://www.legalaidboard.ie
Free Legal Advice Centre
- Address: Free Legal Advice Centre, 13 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1, Ireland
- Legal information lines: Lo-Call: 1890 350 250 / +353 1 874 5690
- Website: http://www.flac.ie/
- Address: Drop in 260 locations nationwide
- Tel: 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm).
- Website: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/
The Courts Service
- Address: 15 – 24 Phoenix Street North, Smithfield, Dublin 7
- Tel: 01 1 888 6000 (main switchboard)
- Website: http://www.courts.ie