Here's a summary of the Bill. A more detailed analysis is below.
We’ve heard a lot about the Children & Family Relationships Bill recently. This deals with so-called “new families” and reflects a so-called “changing Ireland”. The Bill is vast and overhauls our outdated family law system.
But what does it do?
· It extends adoption rights to civil partners and co-habiting couples
· It extend adoptive leave to one member of a same-sex couple
· It affords guardianship to step-parents who’ve cared for a child for over 2 years
· It affords guardianship to relatives who’ve cared with a child for over 12 months
· It affords guardianship to unmarried fathers under certain circumstances
· It sets up a register for children born via AHR
· It assigns parenthood to the partner of the birth mother in same-sex relationships
· It affords parental leave to same-sex couples
· It extends maintenance liability to the civil partner of a child’s parent
· It ensures experts consult children to clarify their best interests
· It imposes parenting programmes on uncooperative parents.
So these are eleven changes that recognize new family arrangements and give greater certainty to the children of these new families. But one issue sticks out: unmarried fathers.
Under the Bill, an unmarried father will acquire guardianship if he lives with the mother for 12 consecutive months, 3 of which are after the birth. Otherwise, he won’t have automatic guardianship and will instead have to get the mother to agree to this or will have to go to court. The Minister has said this will help unmarried fathers, and it will: it grants new rights to fathers currently without rights. But it also means that unless the father and mother move in together upon conception and live together for 3 month after birth, he will not become an automatic guardian.
In other words: if the relationship breaks down during pregnancy, the father remains without rights. The rationale, according to the Minister, is that it “is a recognition of the importance of the responsibility of guardianship”. Fathers are rewarded for staying in the relationship even though they may be unhappy and so links living together with being a good guardian. But the breakdown of a relationship does not equate with being a bad guardian, and co-habiting does not equate with being a good one. Hence this provision needs to be looked at again.
Overall, the Bill makes significant and positive changes to Irish family law. It does not redefine the family: instead, it catches up with it.
 Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice and Equality (Press Release, 25 September 2014)
 Dr Ruth Barrington, Treoir (Press Release, 17 Feb 2015)
 Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice and Equality (Press Release, 17 Feb 2015)