Dáil Éireann - Volume 463 - 26 March, 1996
Written Answers. - Custody Orders.
Mr. Callely Mr. Callely
41. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that genuine concern exists in the area of custody orders to parents of children in marital breakdown particularly where sole custody orders are given; if he has satisfied himself that fair procedures and equality exists in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6282/96]
Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor) Mervyn Taylor
Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor): In deciding issues concerning the custody, guardianship or upbringing of a child the court must, under the law contained in the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration. That important criterion, which is common to many other jurisdictions, is a matter which falls to be dealt with by the court in the context of all the circumstances of each case.
In the absence of agreement between the parents, the court will inevitably have to make hard and difficult decisions and almost always it will include the granting of custody to one parent and access to the other parent. That is the arrangement which seems to work well in most situations where each of the parents co-operate fully with the terms of the court order. The court may grant joint custody of the child to the parents and my understanding is that it  has done so in some cases. Moreover, orders made by the court regarding the custody of a child or the right of access to a child are not final and may, upon application by either parent be varied by the court if it is in the best interests of a child that a variation order be made.
Of course, the best arrangements for all concerned is normally the one agreed by both parents without the need for court intervention. The law is fully supportive of those arrangements. Where judicial separation proceedings are in question, there is an obligation on solicitors to advise their clients of the possibility of entering into an agreement on the terms of their separation including what should happen to the children. The courts may adjourn separation or custody proceedings to allow parties to work out agreements in relation to their children. The Family Mediation Service may be of assistance and is being developed to extend its services nationwide. Where the parties are entitled to legal aid the Legal Aid Board will, through its law centres, be in a position to assist parties in the drawing up of agreements.
My Department is at present preparing proposals for legislation to update aspects of the law in relation to children, including guardianship. The details of changes, if any, in relation to the subject matter of this question, will be announced in the context of publication of those legislative proposals.
Dáil Éireann 463 Written Answers. Custody Orders.