Dáil Éireann - Volume 507 - 29 June, 1999
Written Answers. - Custody of Children.
Mr. C. Lenihan Mr. C. Lenihan
221. Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the number of male parents who are impeded from contacting their children following a break up; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16438/99]
Mr. O'Donoghue Mr. O'Donoghue
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): The law already contains directions to the court on issues concerning the upbringing of a child where parents cannot agree on such matters.
Policy in the law as it stands in the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 is that the court must, in deciding matters relating to the custody of and access to children, regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration. Subject to that important criterion, which is applicable in many other jurisdictions, the same Act empowers the court to give any direction it thinks proper in disputes concerning children and the court has powers to enforce any orders made.
The Children Act, 1997 inserted new provisions in the Act of 1964 to specify that the court has discretion whether or not to order joint custody. In the course of passage of the Bill, I strengthened its provisions in this area with a provision that the court, in making decisions in relation to children, must have regard to whether the child's best interests would be served by maintaining personal relations and direct contact with both his or her father and mother on a regular basis. That provision was inspired by a provision in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The court must also, under a provision inserted by the Act of 1997, consider the wishes of the child in suitable cases.
It is, of course, in the best interests of all concerned when parents can agree the arrangements in relation to the custody of and access to their children, rather than have the courts decide the matter. Of importance in this context is that the Act of 1997 places a new emphasis on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms involving counselling and mediation and obliges solicitors acting for the parties to bring the possibilities offered by such procedures to the attention of their clients. It is well recognised that, where couples are separating, counselling and mediation can offer lasting effects which may benefit themselves and their children. The Government has allocated substantial extra funding for the development of counselling and mediation services.
Dáil Éireann 507 Written Answers. Custody of Children.