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16/05/2011

New family law services launched.

 

The Chief Justice of Ireland, the Hon Mr Justice John L Murray launched new family law services today, namely - an in house mediation service in the District Court Family Law Courts in Dolphin House; new information and statistics on family law and domestic violence; and a free access family law information resource on www.courts.ie.

Family Mediation Initiative.

The welfare of children in custody, access and guardianship cases or in cases with a maintenance element is paramount in our family law courts. District Court staff in Dolphin House can now advise parties in suitable cases of a new in house mediation service.

The Family Mediation Service (FMS) - which is not means tested - will advise parties in general terms as to the purpose of mediation and its advantages in the family law setting. If a party is interested, a briefing session is scheduled to explain the mediation process, following which the party can be fast-tracked to an application through the Courts Service and access to on-site Legal Aid Board services, both general information and legal advice (subject to the normal financial eligibility criteria). This will bring three vital services under the same roof for the first time.

The Chief Justice said at the launch "It is a key objective of the initiative to seek to engage parties in a mediation process prior to issuing court proceedings. In the majority of cases, issues arising from family breakdown are most likely to be best resolved through mutual agreement; mediation, particularly in advance of the 'locking of horns' in legal proceedings, is of primary importance in achieving this. It is important to note, however, there is no bar on persons getting information about mediation or persons attending mediation where court proceedings are already instituted. Equally important is that arrangements are in place to refer mediated settlements to a judge for approval; for example, in cases concerning the appointment of a guardian".

Statistics

The Family Law Court Centre Dolphin House - which recently had a major upgrade - is Ireland’s busiest family law office, accounting for one third of all barring orders and 41% of all safety orders issued nationally.

Child supervision and care orders

The courts deal with applications for orders in respect of the care or supervision of minors, or on behalf of minors concerning the arrangements made by the Health Service Executive (HSE) for their care. The majority of applications are made by the HSE in the District Court. Supervision orders increased by 16% to 731 from 627 in 2009, while care orders increased by 11% to 1,046 from 941 in 2009.

Child guardianship, custody, access

Applications to the District Court in the areas of guardianship, custody and access increased by 15% on average in 2010 to 7,221 from 6137 in 2009.

  • Custody applications increased by 44% to 1,380 from 957 in 2009
  • Access applications increased by 10% to 4,784 from 4,348
  • Applications for both custody and access increased by 8% to 1,057 from 976 in 2009
  • Applications for guardianship by unmarried fathers increased by 12% from 2,463 in 2009 to 2,783 in 2010

Domestic violence

Applications to the District Court under domestic violence legislation increased to 9,945 from 9,856 in 2009 with decreases in applications for barring and protection orders.

  • There was a 7% increase in applications for safety orders (3,561 compared to 3,322)
  • Applications for interim barring orders showed little change - 545 in 2009 compared to 530 in 2010
  • Applications for barring orders decreased by 5% (from 2,855 to 2,726)
  • Applications for protection orders decreased by 7% (from 3,134 to 2,926).


Over half of all applicants for domestic violence protections are spouses. Spouses represent 56% of applicants for barring orders, 57% of applicants for interim barring orders, 52% of applicants for safety orders and 53% of applicants for protection orders.

New family law web resource - making it easier to find information about family law

A new section on the Courts Service website will help those interested in family law to find information about this most personal of legal areas.

The public, family law lawyers, other professionals, and lay litigants can access information on the topics which generate the bulk of business in family law across all the jurisdictions including;

  • Judicial separation, divorce, guardianship, maintenance and domestic violence.
  • Links to the forms needed for court applications
  • Information is provided in a series of guides with relevant legislation highlighted and links to the most frequently used court forms included
  • There is information on court procedure, explanation of legal terms and links to the websites of other agencies who can assist those involved in family law cases.
  • The section also explains processes such as case progression, mediated agreements and collaborative law.


The new section builds on the work undertaken by the Courts Service in recent years to shine a light on the operation of the family courts. This included the publication of ‘Family Law Matters’ a series of reports of cases heard in the District Court, Circuit Court and High Court between 2007 and 2009. The publications, all of which are available on the website, provide snapshots of what happens in the courtroom.

"The new section will guide people through the family law process by providing easy to access information on a range of topics in a step by step format. The new material is delivered in a manner that is easy to understand and easy to access", said Fiona Farrell of the Courts Service Website Development Team.