Guide to Irish Family Law Acts

Index of Legislation 1865 to 2020

//Irish Family Law Legislation
Irish Family Law Legislation 2020-05-18T22:00:39+00:00
  • Family Law Guide

Chronological Guide to Irish Family Law Legislation and Statutes from 1865 – present

This is a comprehensive historical index of family law in Ireland from 1865 right up to 2020 (the more recent legislation having more accompanying explanatory detail).

The index was originally compiled by Kieron Wood BL with more recent updates and commentary authored by Dympna Devenney BL


PART 1 (1865 to 2008 – compiled by Kieron Wood BL)


Property (Ireland) Act 1865

Permitted a wife to sue her husband in tort if separated or deserted.

Partition Acts 1868 [and 1876]

Allowed courts to divide up property between spouses.

Matrimonial Causes and Marriage Law (Ireland) (Amendment) Act 1870

Brought civil nullity rules in line with Church rules.

Married Women’s Property Act 1882

Allowed married women to hold property in their own name.

Married Women’s Status Act 1957

Made wives liable for their own debts and breaches of duty. Allowed courts to decide property disputes between spouses.

Guardianship of Infants Act 1964

Gave parents the right to joint guardianship of their children and allowed courts to make decisions on custody and access.

Succession Act 1965

Reformed the law relating to the estates of people who had died, especially the administration and distribution of property where there is no will. Specified the shares of spouses and children on intestacy.

Marriages Act 1972

Raised the minimum marriage age to 16 for boys and girls, retrospectively validated so-called “Lourdes marriages”.

Maintenance Orders Act 1974

Allowed the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales and Scotland.

Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976

Provided for periodical payments by one spouse to another in cases of failure to provide reasonable maintenance, with deductions of earnings at source and barring orders.

Family Home Protection Act 1976

Protected family home and required prior written consent of both spouses for sale of family home or chattels.

Courts Act 1980

Widened the Circuit Court’s jurisdiction in family law matters.

Family Law Act 1981

Abolished actions for enticement of spouse and breach of promise to marry. Allowed courts to decide disputes over gifts after broken engagements.

Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Act 1981

Gave the Circuit and District Courts power to grant barring and protection orders. (Repealed by Domestic Violence Act 1996)

Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act 1986

Confirmed independent domiciles of wives and recognised divorces granted where either spouse was domiciled.

Status of Children Act 1987

Abolished status of illegitimacy and amended law on maintenance and succession for non-marital children. Allowed unmarried fathers to apply for guardianship of their children. Provided for blood tests to establish paternity.

Family Law Act 1988

Abolished actions for the restitution of conjugal rights.

Children Act 1989

Gave health boards powers to care for children.

Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act 1989

amended the grounds for judicial separation, assisted reconciliation between estranged spouses and provided for ancillary orders such as maintenance, property adjustment and custody of children.

Child Care Act 1991

Gave powers to health boards to care for children who were ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused.

Child Abduction and Enforcement of Custody Orders Act 1991

Dealt with wrongful retention of children. Implemented the Hague Convention 1980 and the Luxembourg Convention 1980.

Maintenance Act 1994

Simplified procedures for recovering maintenance debts from other countries.

Family Law Act 1995

Raised the minimum age for marriage to 18 and required 3 months’ written notice to local registrar, abolished petitions for jactitation of marriage (falsely claiming to be married to someone), provided for declarations of marital status, and ancillary orders after judicial separation or foreign divorce.

Domestic Violence Act 1996

Extended safety, barring and protection orders to non-spouses, gave health boards powers to apply for orders, allowed arrest without warrant for breach.

Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996

Allowed divorce and remarriage, with all ancillary orders.

Children Act 1997

Recognised natural fathers as guardians, allowed children’s views to be considered in guardianship, access and custody matters and allowed parents to have joint custody.

Family Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1997

Amends the Domestic Violence Act 1996 in respect of barring orders and interim barring orders. Section 4 now states that the applicant seeking a further barring order shall be presumed to have lived with the respondent as husband and wife for a period of at least six months in aggregate during the period of nine months prior to making the application.

Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998

Protects a person from civil liability who have reported child abuse to a designated officer of the Health Board in terms of the communications made.

Further protection is afforded to employees who report child abuse from being penalised by their employers as result of making such reports.

The protection is not unqualified and the person who has reported child abuse must have acted reasonably and in good faith in forming that opinion and communicating it to the appropriate person. Where a person who reports child abuse to the appropriate person knowing the statement to be false shall be guilty of an offence.

Protection of Children (Hague Convention) Act 2000

Implements into Irish law the Hague Convention on the protection of children.

Provisions of the Convention deal with jurisdiction, applicable law, co-operation and enforcement of measures designed to protect the welfare of the child between signatory states to the Convention. In order to facilitate greater co-operation and information sharing, each signatory state must establish a Central authority, which in Ireland’s case is the Department of Equality, Justice  and Law Reform.

Once the child reaches the age of 18 years, the Convention provisions can no longer be invoked. There are several matters which are outside the remit of the Convention such as rights on asylum, immigration, maintenance payments and public matters of a general nature involving education and health.

The Contracting State who has jurisdiction in relation to cases of wrongful removal or retention is the one where the child was habitually resident immediately prior to the retention or wrongful removal, until the child has acquired habitual residence in another Contracting State, in addition to;

  1. Each person, institution or body having custody rights acquiesced in the removal or retention.
  2. The child is resident in the other Contracting State for at least 1 year after the person, authority and institution having custody rights should have knowledge of the whereabouts of the child, no request for return lodged within that period is still pending and the child is settled in his environment.

Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act 2002

Permits the court granting an interim barring order on an ex parte basis where in the particular circumstances of the case, the court deems it necessary and expedient to do so in the interest of justice.

Any application for an interim barring order shall be grounded on affidavit or information sworn by the applicant (person applying for the barring order).

If an interim barring order is made ex-parte, a copy of the court order, note of evidence and information sworn by the applicant must be served upon the respondent (person against whom the barring order is being enforced) as soon as reasonable practicable.

Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007

This act affords greater rights to foster and relative parents who have cared for a foster child for a period of not less than five continuous years. Some of the rights granted to foster and relative parents include; consent to medical or psychiatric treatment, treatment or assessment with respect to the child, permission to sign passport applications and school trip consent forms.

However, any application may be made though the Courts and with the knowledge and consent of the Health Service Executive.

Furthermore, the parents in loco parentis must also be informed of the application. Before any application is granted, the courts will have regard to what are the best interests of the child and wlll take into account the wishes of the child in light of his age and degree of understanding.

Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008

Permits the Property Registration Authority (PRA) to cancel an entry made in the Land Registry or note compliance in the Registry of Deeds, after being satisfied that the Property Adjustment Order has been complied with.

The PRA are also required to amend or cancel  the entry in the Land Registry and note the position in the Registry of Deeds when the initial Property Adjustment Order has been amended, revoked or suspended, which usually arises when the second Property Adjustment Order has been duly lodged for registration with the PRA.


PART 2 (2008 to 2020 – compiled by Dympna Devenney BL)

Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008

Permits the Property Registration Authority (PRA) to cancel an entry made in the Land Registry or note compliance in the Registry of Deeds, after being satisfied that the Property Adjustment Order has been complied with.

The PRA are also required to amend or cancel  the entry in the Land Registry and note the position in the Registry of Deeds when the initial Property Adjustment Order has been amended, revoked or suspended, which usually arises when the second Property Adjustment Order has been duly lodged for registration with the PRA

Civil Partnerships and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010

This Act was designed to give civil partners and cohabiting couples more certainty regarding their legal entitlements and responsibilities as they are different from that of married couples.

Civil partners and cohabiting couples irrespective how the length of their relationship have more limited legal recognition of their relationship and this Act governs such things as: property rights; property rights on the breakdown of a relationship; custody of children; legal guardianship of children, access of children; adoption; inheritance; maintenance; agreements and redress.

Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011

This Act makes various amendments which include the following:  Section 9 of The Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976 regarding failure to pay maintenance; Section 2 of the Domestic Violence Act 1996 which defines an applicant; and transfers family mediation services from the Family Support Agency to the Legal Aid Board.

Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013

This Act made many amendments to previous legislation in various Acts regarding the in-camera rule. This means all family proceedings are heard in private and there are significant reporting restrictions by the press. Part 3 of this Act increased the civil jurisdiction of the District Court to €15,000.00 and the Circuit Court to €75,000.000 (€60,000.00 for personal injury).

This Act also gives the District Court to regard a failure by a parent/spouse/civil partner to comply with a court order as contempt of court and if necessary, use imprisonment until the contempt is purged.

Children and Family Relationships Act 2015

  • Parts 2 and 3 of this Act deals with assisted human reproduction.
  • Part 4 makes amendments to the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964;
  • Part 5 makes amendments to the Succession Act 1965,
  • Part 6 makes amendments to the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976;
  • Part 7 makes amendments to the Status of Children Act 1987;
  • Part 8 makes amendments to the Family Law Act 1995;
  • Part 9 makes amendments to the Civil Registration Act 2004, which includes the registering of donor-conceived assisted children;
  • Part 10 makes amendments to the Passports Act 2008 (providing for a new affidavit for a sole guardian),
  • Part 11 makes amendments to the Adoption Act 2010 and Part 12 makes amendments to the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010.

From 18 January 2016, the sections dealing with automatic guardianship for unmarried fathers and applications from unmarried couples to become guardians or custodians of a child were brought into force.

Children (Amendment) Act 2015

This Act deals with the detention of children under the age of 18.

Children First Act 2015

This Act intends to raise awareness of child neglect and abuse; provides for mandatory reporting for key professionals; provides for improvement in child safeguarding; provides for co-operation between agencies in child protection matters.

It removes the defence of reasonable chastisement and places several statutory obligations on specific groups of professionals and organisations providing services to children.

Marriage Act 2015

This Act allows two marriage between two people of the same sex. Religious bodies are not obligated to recognise the ceremonies.

Courts Act 2016

This Act amended the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 and gives Circuit Court jurisdiction over properties valued at up to €3 million in cases begun after 28 December 2016.

Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016

This Act deals with paternity leave for children born after the 1 September 2016.

A relevant parent includes; the child’s father; the spouse / civil partner / cohabitant of the child’s mother, or the child’s sole male adopter, or either parent of a donor-conceived child.

Provided the appropriate PRSI contributions have been made paternity benefit is paid for two consecutive weeks and must be claimed within 26 weeks of the date of birth or day or adoption placement. Employers do not have to pay employees on paternity leave.

Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017

This Act repealed Part 11 of the 2015 Act and amended parts of the Adoption Act 2010. It removes previous automatic restrictions on adoption. This Act gives stepparents; cohabitants and those in civil partnerships the right to adopt. Couples must have been living together for 3 years.

Mediation Act 2017

This Act amended the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964; the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act 1989 and the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996.

This Act requires solicitors to make a statutory declaration they have informed clients who are seeking judicial separation or divorce about mediation as an alternative to court proceedings. The Solicitor must inform them of the pros and cons of mediation and the privacy of mediation.

The Act also provides for the Courts to invite the parties to consider mediation; and the Courts may consider an unreasonable refusal to consider mediation when awarding costs.

Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2017

This Act amends the Parental Leave Act 1998, it increases the age of children from 8 years to 12 years for which parental leave is available and increases the period of unpaid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks from 1 September 2019, and then to 26 weeks from 1 September 2020.

Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Act 2018

This Act has not been commenced yet.

Domestic Violence Act 2018

This Act consolidates the law on domestic violence. It refers to domestic violence as being the use of physical or emotional force; or the threat of physical force;  it includes sexual violence, emotional abuse; destruction of property; controlling behaviour such as isolation from friends, family and other potential sources of support; threats to others including children; stalking; control over access to money, personal items, food, transportation and communication.

It also includes the ‘coercive control’ which is described as a pattern of intimidation, humiliation and controlling behaviour that causes fear of violence or serious distress that has a substantial impact on the victim’s day-to-day activities.

It includes protection orders; safety orders and barring orders which can also be interim. There is also a provision of emergency barring orders. Section 38 of this Act deals with ‘forced marriages’ and the removal of a person from the State intending to enter into a marriage ceremony.

Family Law Act 2019

This Act makes amendments to the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act 1989; the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996 and the Civil Partnerships and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants 2010 Act, it reduces the waiting period for a divorce from four years of the last five to two of the last three.

It also introduced that for the purposes of the Court people can be living apart in the same dwelling and that a relationship does not cease to be intimate because it is not sexual.