Statement from His Honour Colin Daly, President of the District Court
Family Law Matters.
Court Information and Supports Available
8th January, 2021.
As we return to enhanced Level 5 Restrictions some parents whose children are the subject of Access Orders of the District Court may be concerned that they cannot fulfil the terms of these orders safely.
This short advice is in general terms as each family’s circumstances are different.
I would like to remind parents once again how important access with their other parent is to your children.
Access ordered by the District Court must be facilitated wherever possible and unless it causes a real and substantial risk to a child’s health or safety or that of another family member. Ensure that access continues wherever possible and that court orders are followed. Remember there may be serious consequences if a parent is found not to be supporting access as ordered with the other parent.
Even where there is an Access Order of the District Court, parents are responsible for making decisions regarding the safety of their children. You are expected to make sensible and reasonable decisions for your child’s safety and to communicate with each other respectfully when negotiating how to make decisions for your child’s safety. Sensible and reasonable decisions around your child’s safety will reflect current public health advice, so use this as a common basis for your communication and decision making.
It is important to remember that travel restrictions do not apply to access visits, this is not a reason to stop access over this period of greater restriction. Also remember too that travel for children between households can mean greater risk to the child or to other vulnerable family members and this should form part of your decision making.
Discuss with each other what the new and increased level of restrictions will mean for you and your children over the coming weeks. Wherever possible please take a common approach between your two households to public health guidelines to make lives easier and safer for your children and your families. One set of safety ‘rules’ will be much easier for your child to remember.
If it is not safe to continue access as ordered, then try to agree what access can happen safely. If you can both agree an alternative, then it is ok to do this until the level of restrictions falls back again when access as ordered should resume. Keep a note of your agreement in writing, in an email or by text. If you are worried that any changes you may agree now might continue past the end of these restrictions, then consider putting a clear end date or review date, in line with expected lifting of restrictions, into the temporary alternative arrangements. Temporary changes made for safety reasons should revert to the original order as soon as it is safe to do so, as that is the level of access the court has decided is right for your children.
If it is not possible to follow the court order safely remember there are many ways to keep in contact especially through phone calls and video chats, but keep in mind that children may have a short attention span for these activities and these are only a substitute for face to face contact.
It is not always possible for people to make these changes without help. The Legal Aid Board's family mediation services remain open and are free, with no payment required. Mediation services are being provided through a blend of office, online and phone based mediation. Mediation can help resolve issues with parenting plans, access and maintenance. For more information of services in your area go to www.legalaidboard.ie. For Dublin, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Phone: (01) 672 5886.
If you cannot agree an alternative or come to a solution, you can make an application to your local court office for a court hearing to vary or change the access order.
Other supports and services
Some other free parent support services that may be able to help and advise you are:
Contact information for some other supports and services that you may find useful are: