District Court

Ireland is divided into 23 districts with one or more judges permanently assigned to each district. Generally speaking, the venue at which a case is heard depends on where the Respondent resides or carries on business.

Family law proceedings in the District Court are heard in private and are as informal as is possible in the circumstances. The District Court is empowered to deal with many aspects of family law including the following:

  • Domestic Violence;
  • Child related orders including custody and access, guardianship, paternity in relation to any child, and child maintenance;
  • Maintenance; and
  • Child Care (relating to state intervention in the family).

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 District Court, the Applicant issues proceedings against the Respondent by  issuing a document called a ‘Notice of Application’, or by issuing a ‘Summons’ depending on what the nature of the application is.  For example a summons will issue in respect of an application for maintenance, where there has been a breach of a maintenance order or where a domestic violence remedy, such as a summons for a safety order is sought.

Where the Applicant seeks a direction from the court (where an order has already been made but is not being complied with or where the parties need the Judge to make directions due to  change in circumstances since the relevant order was made)in relation to custody or access, a Notice of Application must be issued.

The Notice of Application or the Summons are documents that document the beginning of the court process. They are issued by the District Court office where the Applicant resides and are then given a District Court number and usually the District Court office will assign a date for the hearing of the application on the day the Notice of Application or Summons is issued.

There are set forms which must be used for such applications and summonses, these are set out in the District Court Rules; located on the Courts website; and direction as to the correct form of application/summons to be used should be available from every local District Court office.

Once this document is filled out it must be signed and stamped by the relevant court office so that it is officially ‘issued’. As this work is done in the District Court office, you do not need to appear before the Judge to issue these proceedings.

The Notice of Application or Summons must then be ‘served’ on the Respondent, either in person or by registered post, so the judge can be certain that the Respondent is aware of the court hearing.

There are specific rules on the way these legal documents must be served as well as the timeframe in which they must be served, which differ depending upon the matter in dispute.

For example, an application for maintenance before the District Court requires maintenance summons to be issued against the Respondent and to be served on him/her, in person or by registered post, at least 21 days before the court hearing. Proof of postage should be retained (the registered postage slip) as the court will ask the Applicant to prove that they did serve the proceedings on the Respondent.

Useful Resources

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 very useful family law webpage; which includes a very informative section on court procedure with detail on the laws and procedures for individual applications in the areas of:


One Family

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/

 Family Mediation Service

Citizens Information

The Courts Service

  • Address: 15 – 24 Phoenix Street North, Smithfield, Dublin 7
  • Tel: 01 1 888 6000 (main switchboard)
  • Website: http://www.courts.ie