For many years the Irish family court system has faced much scrutiny, many proclaiming it inadequate due to its inability to put the best interests of the family and all those affected at the centre of the case. In fact, the ‘delays, brief hearings, inadequate facilities and over hasty settlements’ noted by the law reform commission in 1966 are still major issues facing the system today. Given the sensitive nature of family law, where the circumstances resulting in the need for family court intervention are emotionally challenging and oftentimes traumatic for everyone involved, it is essential that a supportive, accessible court system is put in place.
Thankfully, new legislation administered by the Irish government aims to rectify these issues whilst prioritising the best interest of the child. Here are some issues being addressed.
At the moment, all family law matters take place in the District Court on allocated family law days. Given the sensitive nature of all family law matters it has been suggested that a separate family court be constructed, specially designed for these issues.
These family courts would be more child-friendly spaces where parents would feel comfortable leaving their children for extended periods whilst they manage the court proceedings. There would also be private consultation rooms and welfare and mediation services available to prioritise the wellbeing and privacy of those involved. The first of these buildings is currently under construction in Dublin on the Hammond Lane site and is expected to be fit for purpose in 2026.
The building should act as an example demonstrating what all family law courts should provide. Whilst it’s not possible to build multiple new courthouses throughout Ireland, each one should have separate family law courtrooms.
Family law involves complex issues with nuances unique to each specific case. The issues addressed tend to be very emotional for both sides and there is a high possibility children may be concerned. Because of this, many are of the view that judges responsible for family law matters need a different skill set to those dealing with criminal, commercial or civil cases and specialist training should be provided.
This would enable judges to recognise signs of coercive control and domestic abuse and resolve issues in a less adversarial way whilst explaining them in a child-friendly manner to any children involved. Not only would this training both improve and standardise the quality of family law judges around Ireland, it will also place the best interest of the child at the centre of each case that they’re involved in.
The decisions made within a family court can have massive implications in all aspects of the lives of everyone involved including mental health, child welfare and financial stability. It is therefore essential that a well-informed judge manage such cases so the best possible outcome for all parties can be reached. Specialist training is an excellent way of achieving this.
Another major issue currently facing the family law system is the long waiting lists for family court dates. In many instances, people have to wait months for a hearing date and with several cases and no allocated time slot, there is no guarantee the judge will get to your case.
In this case, the hearing will be postponed to the next possible date which could be months away thereby prolonging an emotionally draining situation for those involved. What’s more, the number of family law cases in Ireland is only expected to increase so it is therefore essential that an effective streamlined system is put in place to reduce waiting times.
Unfortunately, limited resources mean there is no easy answer to this issue. One solution put forward by government minister Frances Fitzgerald is the introduction of mandatory mediation, where a trained professional will help both parties through the negotiation process in the hope they can reach an agreement without going through the court. If successful, the process is not only much faster and less emotionally draining than the alternative but it also reduces the court waiting list by ensuring that only completely necessary cases are taken to family court.
Whilst the extent to which mediation should be made mandatory is still being discussed, there is no disagreement on how effective the practice can be. As a result, the introduction of mediation services within the courtroom is currently being trialled in Cork. If successful this service will be extended to courts in other locations and provide an alternative method of dispute resolution within family law.
At CMCG Solicitors, our family lawyers have years of experience in navigating this system and aim to make the entire process as easy as possible. For an initial one-hour consultation contact us on: