Maintenance and lone parents

Marital status and maintenance

If you are or have been married or in a civil partnership, you are entitled to apply to the court for maintenance from your spouse/civil partner to cover your own expenses.

If you are in a cohabiting relationship, you have no such right. If your cohabiting relationship breaks down you may not apply to the court for maintenance for yourself, unless you satisfy the eligibility criteria for the Redress scheme for cohabiting couples. You will have to show that you were/are financially dependent on your partner.

Children and maintenance

Parents, whether married or not, must support their dependent children.

The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 has amended the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976 so that a cohabitant who is a guardian of:

  • Their partner’s child, or
  • The child their partner has the day-to-day care of

has a financial responsibility to the child.

It allows for a court to order the cohabitant to pay maintenance to support a dependent child who is under 18 years of age.

What is a dependent child?

A dependent child is a child who:

  • Is under 18 years old, or
  • Is over 18 and under 23 years old but is still in full-time education, or
  • Has a mental or physical disability to the extent that they cannot maintain themselves

Making a maintenance agreement

There are 3 main ways that you can make a maintenance arrangement:

  • A voluntary maintenance agreement
  • A voluntary maintenance agreement using mediation or legal help
  • A maintenance order

If you have had a child outside of marriage and cannot come to a voluntary maintenance agreement, you may apply to the court to order the other parent to pay child maintenance. In most cases, it is the parent with main custody of the child that makes such an application.

When the court is deciding whether to make a maintenance order in respect of a child, it will consider the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources of both parties. It will also consider whether either parent has other financial responsibilities such as a spouse or other dependent children.

The children of parents who are not married to each other may have to prove paternity in order to get their maintenance or inheritance entitlements. This is not necessary if the father acknowledges paternity or is named as the child's father on the child’s birth certificate.

How to apply for a maintenance order

Most applications for maintenance are made in the District Court. In some situations, an application can be made in the Circuit Court or the High Court. Each court has its own rules on how to apply for a court order. Currently, in the District Court a judge can only order a maximum of €150 per week per child. The court order will specify how the maintenance is to be paid.

If you are making an application for maintenance in the District Court, you can apply to the District Court office in the area you or the respondent is working or living in.

The person making an application for maintenance to the court is called the applicant. The person receiving an application is called the respondent.

The Courts Service explains the steps involved in making an application to a District Court office:

  1. Consider mediation and legal advice

    Before deciding to make a court application, you should consider reaching an agreement with the help of a mediator or a solicitor.

  2. Decide on court location

    You can apply to the District Court in the area where you or the respondent lives or works.

  3. Complete and submit the summons

    To apply for a maintenance order you must fill out a form called a summons and ask the Courts Service to sign it.

  4. Serve the summons and provide proof of summons

    You must send a copy of the summons to the respondent. This is called serving. You must also provide proof of service to the court.

  5. Return documents to court office

    You must return the original summons and Statutory Declaration of Service to the court office.

  6. Attend court hearing

    You must attend the court hearing. The judge will hear the evidence and make a decision. This is called a court order.

  7. Receive a court order

    After the court hearing, the court office will finalise the order and send a copy to all parties.

If either of you live or work in Dublin, your local office may be the Dublin District Court Family Law Office, also known as Dolphin House. The application process for people making an application in Dolphin House is different to the process for the rest of the country.

I have been served with a maintenance summons

If you have been served with a maintenance summons, it means that another person is applying to the court for a maintenance order. The summons is a command to attend court. You should read the summons and any included documents very carefully. It will tell you the date, time, and place of the court hearing. It will also tell you if you need to complete any documentation before the court date.

If the applicant fails to attend court, the case may be struck out by the judge. This means that the case will not go ahead and the applicant will have to start the entire process again.

If you do not attend court, the judge may make an order in your absence. The applicant may also ask the judge to issue a warrant to have you arrested and brought to court. If the judge makes this order, the court office will send a warrant to the Gardaí. When the Gardaí bring you before the court, the judge will set a new date to deal with the case. The court office will notify the applicant of this new date.

Preparing for court

The Courts Service has information to help you to prepare for attending a family law court. Family law cases are heard in camera. This means they are heard in private to protect the privacy of the family. It does not mean they are filmed or videoed.

It also can be helpful to know:

You have the right to appeal if you are not happy with the decision of the judge. If you wish to appeal the decision, you must file your appeal documents within the relevant timelines for each court. For instance, if you want to appeal a District Court decision or order, you must file your appeal documents within 14 days of the court hearing. In some cases, you can apply to the Circuit Court for an extension of time to appeal. You should seek legal advice regarding your appeal.

Further information


28 North Great Georges Street
Dublin 1

Tel: +353 (01) 670 0120

One Family

8 Coke Lane
Dublin 7

Tel: +353 (0)1 662 9212
Locall: 0818 66 22 12
Page edited: 17 April 2024