Minister pledges work on guardianship for non-marital fathers

Dáil passes landmark Bill to reform and update family law but concerns remain

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: she said complexities had been well debated “as well as the issues that need further work and I am committed to proceeding in that vein”. Photograph: David Sleator

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: she said complexities had been well debated “as well as the issues that need further work and I am committed to proceeding in that vein”. Photograph: David Sleator

 

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has pledged to further develop policy for the guardianship rights of non-marital fathers.

As the Dáil passed landmark legislation to reform and update family law, Ms Fitzgerald said complexities had been well debated “as well as the issues that need further work and I am committed to proceeding in that vein”.

The Children and Family Relationships Bill aims to outline as “clearly as possible the rights and responsibilities of those who are parenting a child day-to-day”, while acknowledging the biological links in cases of assisted human reproduction. The Bill bans anonymous donations of genetic material.

The legislation also creates a new mechanism for parents to complete statutory declarations which Ms Fitzgerald described as a “one-stop-shop” where parents could combine birth registration and statutory declarations. It will also be compulsory to register both the mother’s and father’s names on the certificate.

During an extensive debate on guardianship rights, Ms Fitzgerald said that “pending further policy analysis on automatic guardianship” she wanted to provide better information to parents from the outset and that many young fathers “are not aware that they can make a statutory declaration of fatherhood”.

Automatic guardianship

The Bill provides for automatic guardianship once a couple have been co-habiting for 12 months, including three months after the birth but People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said this time period “is very arbitrary and does not make any particular sense”.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn expressed concern that in a non-marital situation, the father’s right to guardianship was subject to the mother’s consent. He said, “We should devise a system where people do not go down the road of going to court on these matters.”

Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger said 90 per cent of single parents were mothers and 50 per cent of fathers did not pay maintenance to those mothers.

She said the problem with guardianship was that “a man who was violent towards his partner would still have the right to dictate where that woman lives because residency is part of guardianship”.

Independent TD Róisín Shortall said the Minister was “discriminating between fathers who are married and fathers who happen to be unmarried”. She asked on what basis the Minister was suggesting that simply because a father of a child was married he had automatic rights whereas the father of a child who was not married does not enjoy those rights.

Ms Fitzgerald said that “Constitutional protection for the family refers to a family based on marriage” but she was committed to developing policy on guardianship.