The breakdown of a marriage or other relationship is a difficult and traumatic process. There are many different issues to be addressed such as financial support, the family home and parenting of children. Trying to sort out these issues can be very stressful. If the relationship has become abusive, you may need to get a safety or barring order.
If you are married, there are a number of legal options following a marital breakdown. The options available are:
A court can also grant a nullity decree which is a declaration that a valid marriage never existed.
In a marriage, there is a legal responsibility on both spouses to maintain each other and any children in accordance with their means. This means that any settlement agreed or imposed by the court should include a maintenance agreement. The issue of what happens to the family home also arises.
Separation or divorce may have tax implications. It is important to understand the different taxation options available and how maintenance payments affect taxation. You may need to get specialist tax advice before entering into arrangements that have capital gains tax implications.
Married parents are automatically joint guardians of their children. Separation or divorce does not change this. However, separation and divorce do have implications for custody and access to children.
The options available to those in civil partnerships where there is a breakdown in the relationship are similar to those available to married couples. The courts are able to grant a decree of nullity of civil partnership in broadly the same way as decrees of nullity of marriage are granted. The courts are also able to dissolve civil partnerships in a similar way to the granting of divorce, but the rules governing the dissolution of civil partnerships are different.
The rights of cohabiting couples are in general not recognised in Irish law. If the relationship breaks down, this has important implications for such things as property ownership. There is a redress scheme for cohabiting couples who have been in a long-term relationship or who have had children.
Where there are children, issues of custody, guardianship and access to the children are likely to arise. Also, while unmarried parents do not have a financial responsibility to maintain each other, both parents are responsible for the maintenance of their children.
A separation, divorce or breakdown of a non-marital relationship can result in a one-parent family. There are a range of benefits and entitlements available to lone parents as well as organisations offering support. For example, One-Parent Family Payment is a payment for men and women who are bringing children up without the support of a partner. Further information is available in our document: Parenting alone
If the relationship is abusive or violent, a barring, safety or protection order may be required. Information on domestic and sexual violence as well as information on local and national support services is available from Cosc - The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence.
If you are concerned about violence in your home, you should contact your local Garda Station. Contact details for your local Garda station are available on the Garda Síochána website. You could also visit your family doctor who, apart from dealing with any possible injuries, can provide information on counselling and other supports.
To apply for a barring order or a safety order you must go to your local District Court Office. Contact details for your local District Court office are available from the Courts Service.
International child abduction occurs when a child is unlawfully removed from a country or unlawfully retained in a country. The Irish Centre for Parentally Abducted Children (ICPAC) publishes an ICPAC Prevention Pack which provides information on the steps you should take if your child is at risk of abduction. Reunite International, a UK charity, also provides child abduction prevention guides on its website.
The Family Mediation Service provides a free service that helps separating couples co-operate with each other in working out mutually acceptable arrangements. The Child and Family Agency funds voluntary organisations that provide marriage and relationship counselling.
The Mediators Institute of Ireland can provide a list of private accredited mediators.
Legal aid and advice is available from the Legal Aid Board in family law cases to people who satisfy a means test and whose case is considered to have merit. If you wish to engage the services of a solicitor privately, the Law Society of Ireland maintains a list of solicitor firms throughout the country.
FLAC is an independent, voluntary organisation that operates a network of legal advice clinics throughout the country. These clinics are confidential, free of charge and open to all. Contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC services in your area.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.