Jeff Golden<br /> is one of the key issues that needs to be addressed in the context of the breakdown of an adult relationship. Custody is the right of a parent to exercise physical care and control in respect of the upbringing of his or her child on a day-to-day basis.


  • Married parents are automatically joint guardians and joint custodians of their child.
  • Separated/divorced parents can be joint custodians, even if the child spends some or all of their time living with one parent, with both parents having an equal duty to care for the child.
  • An unmarried mother is the automatic guardian and sole custodian of the child.
  • An unmarried father can apply to the court for custody (and access) of his child under Section 11(4)(b) of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 as amended.
  • A parents spouse/civil partner/cohabitant or a parent’s cohabitee of a three year minimum can apply for custody when they shared parenting for at least two years.
  • A person can apply for custody if they have had day-to-day care of the child for at least a year and there is no parent or guardian to exercise guardianship.

Section 11 of the Guardian of Infants Act 1964 as amended by the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 now affords parents, relatives and certain other qualifying people rights to apply for access to children.

The process

A parent (and non-parent) may apply to the court for its direction on any question affecting the welfare of their child. This application can include establishing the right of access to the child and can be contested by the parent with custody of the child. The child, to the extent possible given his or her age and understanding, will have the opportunity to make his or her views on the matter known to the court.

 Enforcement Orders

The Guardian of Infants Act 1964 as amended by the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 (Section 18A) provides that where a guardian or parent of a child has been granted either custody or access by court order and it is unreasonably denied, a guardian/parent of the child may apply to the court for an enforcement order.

An enforcement order may provide for one or more of the following:

  • That the applicant be granted additional access to the child.
  • That a parent/guardian be reimbursed for any necessary expenses sustained by the applicant in attempting to exercise his or her right to access or custody.
  • That either or both parties in order to ensure future compliance, attend one of the following: a parenting programme, family counselling, receive information on the possibility of their availing of mediation.

The Courts Service of Ireland answers the following questions:

  • What is custody?
  • What happens when married parents separate?
  • What is the position where the parents are not married?
  • Can other people apply for custody?
  • How to make an application for custody

Questions arising for cohabiting and unmarried couples in relation to this area are addressed by this useful publication from Citizens Information


Image by Jeff Golden CC – BY – NC – 2.0


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