Access and Custody during the Covid-19 crisis
Court orders may exist in relation to a private family law matter but the current circumstances may mean that it is difficult to keep to the terms of that court order. In general, you should continue to adhere to the terms of a court order where one exists if possible. Indeed, the Covid-19 situation should not be used as an excuse to deny access arrangements. Children are allowed move between parents' home for access. A copy of the court order should be on hand when travelling.
If your circumstances, or those of the other parent, means that either of you need to temporarily vary the arrangements of a court order, the President of the District Court has stated you are free to do so and you should agree the arrangements through text or email with the other parent. This will ensure there is a record of it. The Court has said that it expects that where a child cannot spend their usual time with the other parent contact must be established and maintained regularly. Use of Skype, Face-time or other video calling apps may assist you both in doing this. If the use of these is not possible, telephone calls should be arranged.
Communication is important at this time. You should try to communicate with each other outlining concerns and possible solutions and come to an agreement amongst yourselves that is in keeping with the best interests of your children. The health of concerns of parents, children and extended family needs to be considered. It might not be possible for some parties to come to an agreement and so you might require assistance in temporarily changing pre-existing arrangements. You can contact our mediation service that might be able to assist you to do this
Applying to the Court and legal aid
As and from 18th May 2020, breach of access orders will be considered urgent by the Court, if the breach occurred during the Covid-19 outbreak.
If you live in Dublin you can issue proceedings in the District Court Family Law Office in Dolphin House. You need to email email@example.com and they will give you an appointment to come in and make the application. Once you have issued the proceedings you will be given a document called a Notice of Application/District Court Summons with details of the court date and venue. You can bring that document to the Legal Aid Board office on the Third Floor, Dolphin House and apply for legal aid. If you have been served with a summons for breach of access you can call our office on 01 675 5566 for information on how to apply for legal aid.
Note: If the summons issued is headed "Courts (No 2) Act 1986 - Section 5(2)" or similar, and/or "Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851" it is issued in connection with criminal proceedings in relation to the offence of failure or refusal to comply with a direction of the Court requiring a person to give access to or give up custody of an infant, contrary to section 5(2) of the Courts (No. 2) Act 1986. Unfortunately, we can only grant legal aid in civil proceedings. There is a civil remedy available called an "enforcement order" (Section 18A Guardianship of Infants Act 1964) that we can grant legal aid for.
If you live outside Dublin, you should contact your local law centre.
The Minister for Justice & Equality issued a statement in relation to access arrangements during Covid-19
The District Court has given guidance with regard to existing court orders which may be of further assistance.
The organisation One Family has a practical guide on managing access during the Covid-19 crisis