All mothers in Ireland, irrespective of whether they are married or unmarried, have automatic guardianship status in relation to their children, unless they give the child up for adoption. A father who is married to the mother of his child also has automatic guardianship rights in relation to that child. This applies even if the couple married after the birth of the child. The rights of parents to guardianship are set down in Section 6 the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964. Guardianship rights entitle a parent to make important decisions regarding that child's upbringing, for example, deciding on the child's religion, education, medical treatment and where he/she lives.
However, a father who is not married to the mother of his child does not have automatic guardianship rights in relation to that child. If the mother agrees for him to be legally appointed guardian, they must sign a joint statutory declaration. The statutory declaration (SI 5 of 1998) must be signed in the presence of a Peace Commissioner or a Commissioner for Oaths. If there is more than one child, a separate statutory declaration should be made for each.
If the mother does not agree for him to have guardianship, he may apply for this status to the District Court. Statistics for 2004 show that 70% of the 1,237 unmarried fathers applying for guardianship in Ireland in that year had orders granted in their favour.
However, he may be removed as guardian at a future date whereas a father married to the mother of the child is normally guardian for life.
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.