Child Custody & Access Applications in the District Court

Irish law provides that the married parents of children shall be the joint custodians of their children. Where the parents of a child are not married to each other the unmarried mother has automatic custody and guardianship of the child.

What is Custody?

Custody is the physical day-to-day care and control of a child. Even where one parent has sole physical custody of a child, the other parent (if a guardian or joint custodian) is generally entitled to be consulted in relation to matters affecting the welfare of the child. Where parents are separated then practically speaking the child will usually reside with one parent and the other parent will enjoy rights of Access.

What is Access?

Access is the right of the child to see and enjoy the company of a parent. The Childcare Act 1997 extended Access rights to other relatives of the child.

What are the Rights of an Unmarried Father?

For an unmarried father to be appointed as a joint custodian he would have to apply to the court for an Order to be made to appoint him as joint custodian.

Informal Access arrangements can be made between the parents. This will work where both parents are fair and reasonable. If however agreement cannot be reached between the parties, each party can engage their own solicitor to negotiate on their behalf to reach an agreement which both parents sign. While such an agreement is legally binding an application can also be made to court to have the agreement made an Order of Court for ease of enforcement by the parties.


If agreement cannot be reached the matter can be put before a District Court Judge to decide. Any disputes in relation to Custody and Access will be determined by the Court on the basis that the welfare of the child is the first and paramount consideration. Where the child is considered old enough to express a view on the matter the District Court Judge will request that the wishes of the child be assessed by a child psychologist and take this into consideration when making an Order for Custody and or Access. It is a child’s right to see both parents and Access by the non-custodial parent will only be denied if the court believes that it is not in the best interests of the child. The court can set out the time, place and duration of Access visits and can order supervised Access where another adult is present during visits if it considers it appropriate.

It should be noted that an Access and Custody Order is never final and either party can return to the District Court to seek to have the Order amended, varied or discharged at any future date.

This information is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice. Professional or legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this publication. No liability is accepted by Hammond Good, Solicitors for any action taken in reliance on the information contained therein. Any and all information is subject to change. For further information on the subject, please contact the author, Joyce A. Good Hammond, at