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Circuit Court - family law


  • Judicial Separation and ancillary orders, for example, maintenance, custody
  • Divorce and ancillary orders
  • Nullity
  • Appeals from District Court
  • Relief following a foreign divorce or separation outside the jurisdiction
  • Declaration of Marital Status
  • Determination of property disputes
  • Remedies against the estate of a deceased spouse
  • Declarations of parentage
  • Barring Orders and Injunctions


The Circuit Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court in family law proceedings (including judicial separation, divorce, and nullity). Where the rateable valuation of property exceeds €253.95, the parties may apply to have the case transferred to the High Court.

To initiate proceedings in the Circuit family court, people applying must issue the appropriate initiating document, called a Family Law Civil Bill.

There are several categories of family law civil bill;

  • Divorce
  • Judicial Separation
  • Relief following a foreign divorce or separation outside the jurisdiction
  • Nullity
  • Declaration of Marital Status
  • Determination of property disputes
  • Remedies against the estate of a deceased spouse
  • Declarations of parentage

The procedures to be followed are the same in respect of every family law civil bill. In all cases, the civil bill and two copies are lodged with the Circuit Court office.

The civil bill and copies are marked received and date stamped and then the copies are returned to the person making the application. One copy of the civil bill must then be served by the person making the application on the person responding to the action.

Proceedings in the Circuit Court are commenced by the issue of a civil bill, which sets out the main points of a claim under the title 'endorsement of claim'. The civil bill will contain details of the legislation under which an order is being sought, the reliefs required and will be supported by a grounding affidavit which outlines in some details the background to the case. It will also contain the names and addresses of the parties concerned.

In divorce and judicial separation cases, the person applying to the court will also have to issue a certificate attesting to the fact that the civil bill has been served on the person who is responding to the action, the respondent.

The respondent then has ten days in which to lodge an appearance - that is, to indicate that he or she intends to defend the action.

A further ten day period is allowed for filing his or her defence.

If there is no appearance, the respondent can enter a motion applying for a decree in default. If the respondent chooses to defend the action, the case is listed for hearing. If the parties cannot resolve the issue between themselves, they may choose to ask the courts to make a determination. This is done by way of notice of motion, whereby the applicant applies to the court for a date to have the matter heard. The date will be issued by the court office.

If the terms of a separation or divorce have been agreed, the parties bring a notice of motion for judgement to have the matter ruled by the court. If the matter requires a full hearing, a hearing date in contested applications is given by way of a notice of trial.

All cases in the family law courts are heard in camera (in private). Members of the general public are not admitted into the court.

When the court makes an order, details of the order are written on the court file in draft form.

If solicitors or their clients wish to have an official copy of the order, they must call to the office to collect the draft order and take it away to type four copies. These four copies are then returned to the court office with the draft, to be officially signed and sealed by the County Registrar.

Marriage exemptions:

The Circuit Court also has a role in exempting couples wishing to get married from the requirement to give three months notice to the Registrar of Marriages. Exemptions maybe granted to couples who appear in person before a judge to explain why they were unable to give the standard notice. Appointments are made by contacting the relevant Circuit Court office.


There is a large body of legislation which operates in this area, which is accessible from the Irish Statute Book website. These include

  • Rules of the Circuit Court, 2001 (S.I. No. 510 of 2001)
  • Married Women's Status Act 1957 (No. 5 of 1957)
  • Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 (No. 7 of 1964)
  • Marriages Act, 1972 (No. 30 of 1972)
  • Maintenance Orders Act, 1974 (No. 16 of 1974)
  • Maintenance Order Act, 1974 (Commencement) Order, 1975 (S.I. No. 23 of 1975)
  • Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976 (No. 11 of 1976)
  • Family Home Protection Act, 1976 (No. 11 of 1976)
  • Family Law Act, 1981 (No. 22 of 1981)
  • Married Women's Status Act, 1957,
  • s 12, Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964,
  • Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976,
  • Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Orders)
  • Order 69, Matrimonial Causes and Marriage Law (Ireland) Amendment Act, 1870 (S.I. No. 158 of 1982)
  • Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act, 1986 (No. 24 of 1986)
  • Status of Children Act, 1987 (No. 26 of 1987)
  • Family Law Act, 1988 (No. 31 of 1988)
  • Blood Tests (Parentage) Regulations, 1988 (S.I. No. 215 of 1988)
  • Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989 (No. 6 of 1989)
  • Child Abduction and Enforcement of Custody Orders Act, 1991 (No. 6 of 1991)
  • Child Care Act, 1991 (No. 17 of 1991)
  • Occupational Pensions Schemes (Disclosure of Information) Regulations, 1991 (S.I. No. 215 of 1991)
  • Maintenance Act, 1994 (No. 28 of 1994)
  • Family Law Act, 1995 (No. 26 of 1995)
  • Domestic Violence Act, 1996 (No. 1 of 1996)
  • Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996 (No. 33 of 1996)
  • Family Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997 (No. 18 of 1997)
  • Children Act, 1997 (No. 40 of 1997)
  • Family Law Act, 1995 and Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996) (S.I. No. 84 of 1997)
  • Pension Schemes (Family Law) Regulations (S.I. No. 107 of 1997)

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