Family law during COVID-19

Introduction

COVID-19 has had a big impact on the lives of families across Ireland.

The Government has introduced measures to control the spread of COVID-19. You should continue to follow advice on how you can protect yourself and others, including advice on social distancing.

This document gives practical information and advice on family law issues during the COVID-19 emergency period, including:

  • Access to children
  • Maintenance payments
  • Barring, safety and protection orders
  • Operation of courts during COVID-19
  • Services and supports available to people at risk of domestic abuse

You can also read about:

Access to children

The Law Society of Ireland has published updated guidance on dealing with access issues (pdf) that arise during to COVID-19.

The guidance is clear that public health restrictions could not be used as an excuse to ignore a court order and that existing orders should be complied with as much as possible in the circumstances. However, parents should always make decisions in the best interests of the child involved, particularly if the child has a compromised immune system.

The best outcome for children is for parents to contact each other to set out their concerns and suggest ideas for practical solutions that can be put in place. Any changes to existing court orders should be documented in a text or email so that there is a written record for future reference.

Family mediation

If matters can still not be agreed, the parties should try mediation. Mediation is not relationship counselling.

Family mediation is a free service which helps separating couples and parents whose relationship has broken down to negotiate their own agreement. With mediation you will be helped to make your own decisions that suit your circumstances. If you decide to go to court it will be a judge who will ultimately make these decisions.

The Family Mediation Service is a service provided by the Legal Aid Board. It provides face-to-face mediation and online mediation through its national network of family law mediation service offices. Details of how to make an appointment and the contact details of each office are available at legalaidboard.ie.

Family mediation is also available privately. A mediator may charge in a variety of ways, such as an hourly rate, day rate or flat rate. Contact details of family law mediation solicitors are available on lawsociety.ie.

Placement of children with relatives and temporary guardianship

You may be concerned about who will look after your children if you become sick. This might be of particular concern if you are parenting alone. In many cases, other family members will be able to help.

If there is no obvious stand-in or where there is an important decision to be made in relation to the child, such as consent to medical treatment, it may be reassuring to have a plan in place.

On 12 May 2020, new temporary regulations (pdf) took effect for a period of 6 months to make it easier and quicker for a child to be placed with a relative by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Tusla must be satisfied that the immediate placement of a child in its care with a relative of the child is in the interests of the child.

Temporary guardianship can be granted by the District Court to allow another adult, known as the nominated person, to care for your child or children when you are seriously unwell or need be hospitalised. The nominated person must be a suitable person and over 18 years old.

You need to complete a special form to nominate a temporary guardian (pdf), in which you can set out your wishes or any limitations on the temporary guardian. The nominated person must then apply to the court if you cannot carry out your parental role due to serious illness. The scope of temporary guardian’s rights will be set out in the District Court’s Order, which will usually be identical to the wishes you set out in the form. The District Court is currently closed for general case hearings but if your case is urgent it will be heard.

Support organisations for families

One Family, the national support organisation for lone parents, has published a practical guide on managing access during COVID-19.

Treoir, the National Federation of Services for Unmarried Parents and their Children, provides information and advice on 01 670 0120, 10am – 4pm, Monday to Friday.

Barnardos has a dedicated telephone and email service to support families through the pandemic. Call 1800 910 123, 10am – 2pm, Monday to Friday.

You can read more supports for children and parents during COVID-19.

Maintenance

Parents who pay child maintenance should continue making payments as normal during COVID-19.

The Legal Aid Board has published advice on dealing with maintenance issues if you have had a change in employment status or you have reduced income.

You are advised to:

  • Tell the person who gets the maintenance that you will not be able to pay the agreed amount of maintenance and explain why. This should be done before the payment is due, if possible.
  • You should also send a letter to their solicitor (if they have one) explaining your position and include any available evidence that shows a change in your financial circumstances.
  • You should consult your solicitor for advice, if possible, about an appropriate payment to make in the changed circumstances. You should tell your ex-partner (or the parent of your child) as soon as possible how much you intend to pay and try to reach an agreement with them.
  • If agreement cannot be reached, you should pay what you are advised or believe is the appropriate amount in the circumstances and apply for an order to vary the maintenance as soon as possible.

The guidance also states that:

  • Applications to vary maintenance should be lodged as soon as possible, for whatever return date is given, so that applications can be made to backdate orders.
  • Where the person receiving the maintenance is in difficulty, their circumstances should also be considered.
  • If there are any issues with making mortgage payments and other joint bills, you should communicate (through your solicitor or directly) with your former partner or parent of your child. Both parties should work together to notify banks or other third parties that there is an issue with payment of bills.

FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) has published advice for people having difficulty paying maintenance during COVID-19. You can call FLAC’s Information line on 1890 350 250 or 01 874 5690, 9.30am – 1pm, Monday to Friday, and 7pm – 9pm on Monday evenings.

One-Parent Family Payment and Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment

If you are getting a One-Parent Family Payment or Jobseeker’s Transitional Payment and the other parent of your child has reduced or stopped their maintenance payment, you may be entitled to an increase in your payment.

To get an increase, you should contact your local Intreo Centre. You will need to write a letter stating either the reduced amount, or that you are no longer getting a maintenance payment and provide it to your local Intreo Centre.

Your One-Parent Family Payment or Jobseeeker's Transition Payment will be increased for a period of up to 12 weeks. After that, your payment may be reviewed and your means re-assessed.

Law courts

To find out the most up to date information on how the courts are operating or to make an appointment, you can contact the relevant office. Guidance has been issued on attending court safely (pdf) and what measures you should take to ensure your safety and the safety of others.

Regular business in the District Court resumed from 1 September 2020. The courts continue to deal with urgent cases involving domestic abuse and to process:

  • New applications for protection orders
  • New applications for interim barring orders
  • Applications for emergency barring orders
  • Extension of care orders and interim care orders and emergency care orders and exceptional or urgent interim care orders

If your safety order hearing is being adjourned, an interim protection order will be extended to the new date.

If you cannot afford to ask the court for protection from an abusive spouse or partner or another family member, you can apply for legal aid. Contact the Legal Aid Board on 1890 615 200, 10am – 12.30pm and 2pm – 4pm, Monday to Friday.

Alternatively you can email your contact details to info@legalaidboard.ie and arrange a call-back, or you can make an application for legal aid online. You can also contact the Legal Aid Board if Tusla has informed you that it intends to apply to the court to take your children into care.

Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is violence or another form of abuse by a person against another person that they are, or were, in an intimate relationship with. The abuse may be physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or financial. Domestic abuse can affect children and other family members.

If you feel in immediate danger, call 112 or 999 as soon as it is safe to do so. The Gardaí are specially trained to deal with these situations.

Domestic abuse applications continue to be given priority in the court system if a protection or interim barring order is needed.

The Legal Aid Board has published guidance explaining the different orders available from a court to protect you from domestic abuse and how you can apply.

Rent Supplement and domestic violence

Victims of domestic violence referred from Tusla-funded services, An Garda Síochána and the Health Service Executive (HSE) can get immediate access to Rent Supplement. The means-test for Rent Supplement will not apply for 3 months.

Support

Many organisations have extended and adapted their services during COVID-19 due to increased demand for support. You can access a full list of domestic abuse support services.

The ISPCC has a support line and hub for parents and carers as well as its 24-hour Childline and Teenline listening services for children and young people up to the age of 18:

  • The ISPCC support line can be contacted on 01 243 2000, 9am - 1pm daily, Monday to Friday
  • Childline is available 24-hours a day on 1800 666 666, by text on 50101 and by live chat
  • Teenline can be contacted 24-hours a day on 1800 833 634

If you are concerned about elder abuse, you can call the HSE helpline on 1850 241 850, 8am - 8pm, Monday to Saturday. If you feel in immediate danger, you should contact the Gardaí. For further information, see the HSE’s website on elder abuse or visit Safeguarding Ireland.

Safeguarding Ireland has also published guidance about protecting older people from financial abuse during COVID-19.

Further information

The Legal Aid Board

Quay Street
Caherciveen
Kerry
V23 RD36
Ireland

Tel: 066 947 1000
Locall: 1890 615 200

Courts Service

Customer Service

Phoenix House
15/24 Phoenix Street North
Dublin 7
Ireland

Tel: +353 (0)1 888 6000

Treoir

28 North Great Georges Street
Dublin 1
Ireland

Tel: +353 (0)1 670 0120

One Family

8 Coke Lane
Dublin 7
Ireland

Tel: +353 (0)1 662 9212
Locall: 1890 662212

Page edited: 16 October 2020