Issues concerning custody?
AThe breakdown of the parental relationship has an enormous impact on children and it is imperative that each parent is sensitive to the needs of the individual child in these circumstances. The law provides the child’s welfare is the first and paramount consideration, although, this provision is not always reflected by the Court process. Studies have shown that children cope better with their parents separation if they are reassured of their parents love, can spend time with each parent and are kept out of conflict situations between the parents. Where capable, children should be afforded an opportunity to express their own fears and concerns arising out of their parents’ separation. The assistance of an appropriate child/counselling professional may be helpful in dealing with emotional trauma experienced by children and their parents, even where there is no dispute regarding custody arrangements.

Custody, generally speaking comprises day to day care and control of a child, that is, the parent with whom the child primarily resides. The Court, pursuant to the Children Act 1997 has power to grant joint custody to both parents while specifying that primary residence is with one of the parents and setting out access arrangements for the other parent. An Order for joint custody is usually granted unless there are specific reasons not to do so, for instance, where there is continuing conflict or if the parents cannot work sensibly in the interests of the children.

What is Guardianship?
AGuardianship is a separate concept. Both parents always retain their guardianship rights, i.e. the right to be consulted and make decisions on the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social welfare of the child. While for all practical purposes one parent may have made all such decisions prior to the breakdown of the relationship, it is preferable, post-separation, that neither parent acts unilaterally in relation to the children.

It is strongly recommended that every effort is made to work constructively for the welfare of the children. If you are the custodial parent you have an obligation to facilitate the children’s contact with the other parent. If you are the non-custodial parent you must be consistent in your approach to the children and remain an active parent in all aspects of their lives i.e. their schooling and hobbies and sporting activities.

A child is a minor until age 18 but a child is financially dependent until 23 if they continue in full-time education and are entitled to be supported financially.

You might wish to read a booklet called ‘When Parents Separate: Helping your Children Cope’ by John Sharry, Peter Reid and Eugene Donohoe who are attached to the Mater Hospital and the Lucena Clinic. It is published by Veritas. The booklet is based on research and offers practical advice on how you can help yourself and your children.