How to Enforce an Access or Custody Order


Have you obtained an access order from Court but you’re being denied access to the child?

You may need to take legal action to enforce your Court Order.

Section 60 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 came into law in Ireland on January 18th, 2016. It amends the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 and provides as follows:

60. The Act of 1964 is amended by the insertion of the following sections after section 18:

“Enforcement orders

18A. (1) A guardian or parent of a child who has been—
(a) granted, by order of the court made under this Act, custody of, or access to, that child, and
(b) unreasonably denied such custody or access by another guardian or parent of that child,
may apply to the court for an order (‘enforcement order’) under this section.
(2) An application under subsection (1) shall be on notice to each guardian and parent of the child concerned.
(3) Subject to subsection (4), the court, on an application under subsection (1), shall make an enforcement order only where it is satisfied that—
(a) the applicant was unreasonably denied custody or access, as the case may be, by the other parent or guardian,
(b) it is in the best interests of the child to do so, and
(c) it is otherwise appropriate in the circumstances of the case to do so.
(4) An enforcement order may provide for one or more than one of the following:
(a) that the applicant be granted access to the child for such periods of time (being periods of time in addition to the periods of time during which the applicant has access to the child under the order referred to in subsection (1)(a)) that the court may consider necessary in order to allow any adverse effects on the relationship between the applicant and child caused by the denial referred to in subsection (1) to be addressed;
(b) that the respondent reimburse the applicant for any necessary expenses actually incurred by the applicant in attempting to exercise his or her right under the order referred to in subsection (1)(a) to custody of, or access to, the child;
(c) that the respondent or the applicant, or both, in order to ensure future compliance by them with the order referred to in subsection (1)(a) do one or more than one of the following:
(i) attend, either individually or together, a parenting programme;
(ii) avail, either individually or together, of family counselling;
(iii) receive information, in such manner and in such form as the court may determine on the possibility of their availing of mediation as a means of resolving disputes between them, that adversely affect their parenting capacities, between the applicant and respondent.
(5) An enforcement order shall not contain a provision referred to in subsection (4)(a) unless—
(a) the child, to the extent possible given his or her age and understanding, has had the opportunity to make his or her views on the matter known to the court, and
(b) the court has taken the views (if any) of the child referred to in paragraph (a) into account in making the order.
(6) Where the court, on an application under subsection (1), is of the opinion that the denial of custody or access was reasonable in the particular circumstances, it may—
(a) refuse to make an enforcement order, or
(b) make such enforcement order that it considers appropriate in the circumstances.
(7) This section is without prejudice to the law as to contempt of court.
(8) In this section—
‘family counselling’ means a service provided by a family counsellor in which he or she assists a person or persons—
(a) to resolve or better cope with personal and interpersonal problems or difficulties relating to, as the case may be, his, her or their marriage, civil partnership, cohabitation or parenting of a child, or
(b) to resolve or better cope with personal and interpersonal problems or difficulties, or issues relating to the care of children, where the person or persons is or are affected, or likely to be affected, by separation, divorce, the dissolution of a civil partnership or the ending of a relationship of cohabitation;
‘family counsellor’ means a person who has the requisite skill and judgment to provide family counselling;
‘parenting programme’ means a programme that is designed to assist (including by the provision of counselling services or the teaching of techniques to resolve disputes) a person in resolving problems that adversely affect the carrying out of his or her parenting responsibilities.

Person presumed to have seen order of court

18B. A person shall be deemed to have been given or shown a copy of an order made under this Act if that person was present at the sitting of the court at which such order was made.
Power of court to vary or terminate custody or access enforcement order
18C. (1) The court may, on application by a person granted by order of the court made under this Act, custody of, or access to a child, make an order varying or terminating an enforcement order or any part of that order.
(2) The court may, in proceedings to vary or terminate a custody or access order, in those proceedings vary or terminate an enforcement order that relates to that custody or access order.

Enforcement of custody or access order

18D. (1) Where a guardian or parent of a child—
(a) has been granted, by order of the court made under this Act, custody of, or access to that child, and
(b) fails, without reasonable notice to another guardian or parent of the child, to exercise the right concerned,
the other parent or guardian of the child may apply to the court for an order requiring the first-mentioned guardian or parent to reimburse to the second-mentioned guardian or parent any necessary expenses actually incurred by that guardian or parent as a result of the failure of the first-mentioned guardian or parent to exercise that right.
(2) In this section, and section 18A, ‘necessary expenses’ include the following:
(a) travel expenses;
(b) lost remuneration;
(c) any other expenses the court may allow.”.

What This Means

This means that you can make a formal complaint to the District Court Clerk who can then issue a breach of access summons (form 58.29 District Court, schedule C) to the party failing to abide by the access order.

It is presumed, also, that the non-compliant party has seen the Court order granting access if he/she was present at the Court sitting where the order was made.

The Court can then make an enforcement order if it decides that you were unreasonably denied access.

The Court can also make an order that you be reimbursed for necessary expenses-travel and lost remuneration- in attempting to avail of access, order that either or both parties attend a family counselling/parenting programme, or vary/terminate the access order.

In other words, the Court has wide discretion to make whatever order it sees fit, having regard to the welfare of the child.

The Court can also find the non-compliant party in contempt of Court and impose whatever penalty it sees fit.

Which Court?

Most orders for enforcement of custody or access will be pursued through the District Court but the Circuit Court may also be appropriate as the Court as apprehended by Part III of the Guardianship of Infants act, 1964 means:

 the court  means the Circuit Court or the District Court;

Child Care Law Separation

Access, Custody and Guardianship of Children in Ireland-The Essentials

The Guardianship of Infants act,1964 is the principal piece of legislation governing the issues of access, custody and guardianship in Ireland.

Any guardian of a child can apply to Court to seek an order concerning these issues and the Court will be primarily guided by what is in the best interests of the child. An unmarried natural father can bring an application under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 regarding custody and/or access.

Who is the guardian of the child?

The natural mother is automatically a guardian under Irish law; the father is also automatically a guardian if he is married to the mother at the time of birth or becomes a guardian on subsequent marriage after the birth.

However the natural father of the child, who is not married to the mother at the birth of the child, can apply to become a guardian under the Guardianship of Infants act,1964. (He can also become a guardian with the joint guardian with the consent and co-operation of the mother).

It is important to note that the unmarried father has the right to apply to become a guardian but not the right to be a guardian automatically.

The welfare of the child

Any application to Court in respect of guardianship, access or custody will be considered be having a look at what is in the best interests of the child. This welfare of child concept is necessitated by the 1964 act and welfare is looked at under a number of headings such as

  • The moral welfare (conduct of the parents is relevant only insofar as it affects the welfare of the child)
  • Religious welfare
  • Intellectual welfare (includes educational needs of the child)
  • Physical
  • Social (the capacity of the child to mix with and become part of the society in which they will be brought up)
  • Emotional
  • Capacity of the parent to care for the child
  • Wishes of the child but this will depend ont the age and level of understanding of the child and a Court is under no obligation to agree to the demands of a child in this respect
  • Keeping siblings together
  • Keeping siblings with the marital father where the mother is deceased.

Where there is a conflict between the welfare of the child and other considerations, the welfare of the child takes precedence.

Guardianship of children

Guardianship in Irish law is recognised as the duties and rights of the parent to make decisions in relation to the child’s upbringing, specifically in relation to education, religion and general global care/rearing, and decisions which must be made during the child’s lifetime relating to general lifestyle and development. It includes a duty to maintain and properly care for the child.

Who can be a guardian?

The natural mother is automatically  a guardian of the child.

Whether the father is a guardian or not will depend on his relationship with the mother-if they are married he is automatically a guardian.

If they are not married he is not a guardian.

However he can become a guardian in two ways:

  1. he can apply to Court under section 6A of the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 to be made a guardian or
  2. a statutory declaration, with the mother’s agreement, in accordance with the Children Act, 1997 (Section 4)

The Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 also allows the father and mother to appoint testamentary guardians by will or deed to act as guardians in their place after death.

A guardian then has rights to custody of the child, subject to any court order, will, or deed, and can act on behalf of the child in relation to property of the child, legal proceedings and so on.

Unmarried fathers

Unmarried fathers are excluded from being automatic guardians of the child, unlike the natural mother. The Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 gives the unmarried father the right to apply to Court to be appointed a guardian. This application will be judged on the circumstances of the case and the welfare of the child.


Custody is the right of a parent to exercise day to day care and control (physical) of the child. The married parents are automatically joint guardians and custodians of the child.

In the unmarried family, the mother is automatically the child’s guardian and sole custodian.

An unmarried father can apply for custody under the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 (Section 11(4)), even if he is not a guardian at the time.

The Children Act, 1997 makes provision for the father and mother to be appointed joint custodians. However, the reality is that the more likely scenario will be that one parent will have sole custody, generally the mother, and the other parent will have access. (Strictly speaking, the right to access is a right of the child in accordance with the UN Convention n the Rights of the Child)

In situations where married parents separate and sole custody is awarded to one parent, this does not mean that the non custodial parent is deprived of other rights that accrue as a guardian. The non custodial parent must still be consulted in relation to all aspects of the child’s welfare.

How to Apply for Custody

The application for custody is normally brought in the District Court and the procedure is the same as applying for maintenance or access (see further down the page for the procedure and the relevant form).

Basically, you use form 58.17 and serve it on the other party at least 14 days before the Court hearing date, unless the application has been certified by the District Court office as urgent. In this case, two days notice is required.

You then file the notice and a statutory declaration of service at least 2 days before the Court hearing date.



The law considers that the right to access to a parent is in fact a right of the child; this is why an access to a child order will be decided by the Court whilst looking at what is in the best interests of the child.

Generally though it is very unusual for a Court to not grant a parent access to their child and may, where necessary, make a supervised access order to allow to this to happen where the circumstances demand it.

The Children Act 1997 gives rights of relatives to apply for access to a child. This includes grandparents and the extended family of the child as well as those who have acted in loco parentis to the child.

Access orders are not final and can be varied/changed on application to Court.

How to Obtain Access

The vast majority of access applications are made in the District Court.

The application involves filling out the appropriate form (form 58.17) and lodging it in the District Court office. They will issue the form and insert a date in the Notice for the Court hearing for your application.

You must serve this Notice of the application on the other party (the Respondent) at least 14 days before the Court date. However, if the application is certified as urgent by the District Court office, 2 days’ notice will be sufficient.

The Notice and a Statutory Declaration of Service (forms 10.1/10.2/10.3) must be lodged in the Court office at least 2 days before the Court hearing date.

You then attend Court to make your application. You may have instructed a solicitor to assist you or you can apply yourself if you feel comfortable doing so.

You may also be entitled to legal aid through the District Court Family Law Legal Aid scheme. If you are approved, you will have to make a small contribution to the cost of the solicitor. The solicitor will be paid directly by the Legal Aid Board a set fee set down in the family law scheme.

By Terry Gorry

Divorce Separation

Court Orders on Separation and Divorce

The Family Law Courts in Ireland have considerable powers to make additional orders, called ancillary orders, in divorce and judicial separation proceedings under the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989 , the Family Law Act, 1995 (judicial separation proceedings) and the Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996 (divorce proceedings).


The main factor determining these orders is the need to make “proper provision” for spouses and dependent members of the family.

The Courts also have the power to make preliminary orders in relation to judicial separation and divorce proceedings and these will be granted before the full hearing involving divorce or judicial separation.

An example of such a preliminary order is called a maintenance pending suit order which allows for maintenance payments to be made prior to the hearing of the divorce or Judicial separation proceedings. Domestic violence can also be dealt with through a preliminary order.

Custody and access orders

Custody and access arguments can be dealt with by way of preliminary order also as well as at the substantive hearing of the proceedings. Remember though that orders concerning access and custody can be obtained even where divorce or judicial separation proceedings are not contemplated under the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964.

It is worth noting also that even where divorce takes place a divorced person can still avail of relief under the Domestic Violence Act, 1996 even though ordinarily the person would not be considered to be a spouse in the eyes of the law once the decree of divorce is granted.

Financial Provision on Marriage Breakdown

Financial provision can be made on the breakdown of a marriage under the following broad headings:

  • maintenance

  • property

  • succession.


The common law duty for spouses to maintain one another is continued in the legislation covering marital breakdown and survives the ending of the marriage. The liability to maintain a former spouse only ends when that spouse dies or remarries.

This duty continues despite the execution of a separation agreement or an order of judicial separation or divorce.

Three types of maintenance order can be made under the Family Law Act, 1995:

  • a periodical payments order

  • a secured periodical payments order

  • a lump sum payment order.

The Family Law Act, 1995 also allows a court to make an attachment of earnings order at the same time as the making of a periodical payments order without any default in payment having taken place.

All ancillary relief orders will be granted by the Court in the light of ‘proper provision for each spouse and for any dependent member of the family…

Learn more about maintenance orders here.

Property-The Family Home

The Family Home Protection Act 1976 describes the family home as “primarily a dwelling in which a married couple ordinarily reside”.

When a marriage breaks down in Ireland and divorce or judicial separation proceedings are instituted the family home will loom large in considerations as for many couples it is the principal or only asset that they have.

Property Adjustment Orders and Preliminary Orders

Courts can make property adjustment orders in separation or divorce proceedings; in fact they can also make preliminary orders in respect of the family home which are orders which predate the hearing of the legal proceedings.

Courts have the power to make the following orders on separation or divorce :

I.    Preliminary orders (effective until the hearing of the judicial separation or divorce proceedings)

II   Property adjustment orders

1. The property to be transferred from one spouse to another or to another person

2. The reduction or extinguishment of any interest that a spouse has in the property

3. The settlement of the property to either spouse

However no order can be made in favour of a spouse who remarries and an application for a property adjustment order must be made during the lifetime of the other spouse.

The Courts can also order the sale of the family home but cannot do so if one of the spouses remarries and is living in the home with his/her new spouse.

All property adjustment orders can be varied except an order directing the sale of the family home and this has been carried out.

Property adjustment orders can also be made in respect of all types of property, not just the family home.

Succession rights

A spouse has an entitlement under the Succession Act, 1965 to one half (if there is no children) or one third (if there is children) of the deceased spouse’s estate.

However the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform act 1989 allowed for the first time the extinguishment of the share to which the spouse would be entitled under the Succession Act, 1965 but only provided proper provision has been made for the spouse losing their succession entitlements.

This of course only applies in Judicial Separation cases as in divorce cases the “spouse” is no longer a “spouse” after divorce and loses Succession Act entitlements automatically.

However the Court will generally make allowance for this loss by making what it considers the necessary ancillary orders on granting a decree of divorce.

Pension adjustment orders

The Family Law Act, 1995 allows the making of a pension adjustment order which aims to allow the distribution of pension benefits by disregarding the terms of the pension scheme and either party can apply for this order.

However if you remarry you are prevented from applying for such an order.

It is important to note that any attempt by a separating couple to divide the benefits of a pension scheme between them will not work and will have no effect. Regardless of what an individual member of a pension scheme wants, the trustees of the scheme are obliged to be bound by the terms of the scheme.

If the parties come to agreement in relation to the pension then they will need an order of Court to effect that agreement and this can only be done after the granting of a decree of divorce or judicial separation by way of an order of Court.

If separating couples execute a deed of separation between themselves then they are depriving the Court of making an order in respect of the pension.

The recommended procedure would be to agree the terms of agreement between spouses, issue proceedings under the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989 and an application to have the settlement terms made an order of Court and the relevant pension adjustment order made on consent.

Factors the Court Considers When Making Orders on Divorce and Judicial Separation

The factors the Court will consider when making these orders are

I. The actual and potential financial resources of both spouses

II. The actual and likely financial needs, obligations and responsibilities of both spouses

III. The standard of living of the spouses before the separation or divorce

IV. The length of marriage and the ages of the spouses

V. Spousal contributions-this is increasing in importance in the Court’s considerations and looks at not just financial contributions but time spent looking after home and family

VI. Earning capacity or lack of it due to time spent in the home due to marital responsibilities and the lack of future earning capacity due to the sacrifice of career made during marriage

VII. Statutory entitlements-any benefit or income either spouse is entitled to in law

VIII. Conduct-this is not a hugely important factor unless the conduct is egregious

IX. The accommodation needs of both spouses

X. Any separation agreement entered into by the spouses and which is still in effect

All of these factors will be considered under the overarching goal of attempting to ensure proper provision is made for both the spouse and any dependent members of the family.

It is noteworthy that even where there is a full and final settlement clause in the divorce the Courts can still make a change to any maintenance order as in Irish law there is really no “clean break”.

Procedure in the Circuit Court and High Court

The Circuit Court and the High Court have jurisdiction to hear

  • applications for divorce

  • decrees of judicial separation

  • applications for orders under the Family Law Act, 1995

  • applications for decrees of nullity.

Most of these proceedings will be commenced with a Family Law Civil Bill (Circuit Court) or Family Law Summons (High Court).

Where financial relief is sought it will be necessary to file an Affidavit of Means. Where there are dependent children involved, regardless of whether financial relief is sought, an Affidavit of Welfare must be sworn and filed.


Discovery is the procedure whereby both parties obtain full and detailed information about the other’s income, debts, assets, and liabilities. There are strict rules in the Circuit Court and High Court in relation to discovery.
By Terry Gorry