Guardianship / Custody / Access
Custody essentially means the right to the physical care and control of a minor, being a child under the age of 18 years. When the court is making its decision about who should have custody of the child, the most important factor for it is the welfare of the child.
Guardianship is the duty to maintain and properly care for a child and to have a right to make decisions about a child’s welfare.
Access refers to the time that a child or children spend with the parent who does not have the day to day care and control of the child and with whom the child does not primarily reside.
Custody can be held jointly by more than one person. Under Irish law married couples are automatically joint guardians and joint custodians of their children. Even after separation they will remain joint guardians, with the right to make decisions as to welfare matters relating to the children and their upbringing. After a marriage breaks down it is usual in the Irish Courts that the parents will remain joint custodians of the children, however a Court will decide which parent the children should primarily reside with on a day to day basis. The other parent will be awarded access which will be shorter periods of time with the children. Access can be weekly, fortnightly, monthly or in such other periods and includes holiday access.
By law, an unmarried mother is the sole guardian of a child born outside of marriage. Unless the mother agrees to sign a statutory declaration, an unmarried father must apply to the court in order to become a legal guardian of his child. It is not necessary for a father to have guardianship before he applies for access or custody.