New laws to allow adoption by same-sex couples

Reforms to legislation aimed at recognising diversity of modern family

The new laws will provide a long-anticipated legal basis for surrogacy and assisted human reproduction in Ireland, allowing intended parents to be legally recognised as parents, even if they have no genetic link to the child.

The new laws will provide a long-anticipated legal basis for surrogacy and assisted human reproduction in Ireland, allowing intended parents to be legally recognised as parents, even if they have no genetic link to the child.

Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 01:00

New family laws will have major consequences for a wide range of family types and allow for the adoption of children by same-sex civil partners for the first time.

The heads of a new Children and Family Relationships Bill are expected to be published next month by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

Current family law – much of it drawn up in the 1960s – is regarded by many experts as ill-equipped to deal with the complexity and diversity of modern family life.

The new laws will provide a long-anticipated legal basis for surrogacy and assisted human reproduction in Ireland, allowing intended parents to be legally recognised as parents, even if they have no genetic link to the child.

It will also modernise areas like guardianship and access for unmarried parents and civil partners, and will allow children to be consulted over custody or access.

“This is finally addressing areas that have been substantially ignored by successive governments,” Mr Shatter said, in an interview.

Planned reforms

While the planned reforms have the support of the Government, they are likely to prove controversial among conservative and religious groups. The same Bill – or a related piece of legislation – will reform adoption laws by allowing same-sex couples in civil partnerships to adopt children.

Adoption law
Current adoption law provides for the adoption of children by married couples or single persons – irrespective of their sexual orientation – but not by unmarried couples or civil partners.

Mr Shatter said he was in discussion with Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald over whether proposals to allow for civil partners will end up in the Children and Family Relationships Bill, or in a separate piece of legislation.

While the measure may prove controversial in some quarters, the Minister said the legislation – likely to become law next year – has the full support of Fine Gael and Labour.

“The only question is what legal vehicle will be used for the legislation,” Mr Shatter said.

“There is no difference between the Coalition partners on this. There has been now row, no division. It has generated minimal excitement.”

Some of the biggest changes will be in the area of guardianship, custody and access involving unmarried parents and civil partners.

Bill’s main points

Guardianship
Allow civil partners, step-parents, those cohabiting with the biological or adoptive parent to apply for guardianship of a child.

Allow husbands to become joint guardians of children in relationships where they are not the biological father of the child .

Establish that the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration in decisions on custody, guardianship and access and set out what constitutes the best interests test.

Increase the number of single fathers who are automatically guardians of their children by providing that a non-marital father is a guardian of his child if he cohabits with the child’s mother for at least a year before the child’s birth and the cohabitation ends (if applicable) less than 10 months before the child’s birth.


New penalties for parents or guardians who refuse to comply with court orders about access and custody.


Assisted human reproduction
Where donor eggs or sperm are used, the birth mother and the consenting spouse or partner will be presumed to be the parents.


Surrogacy
Parentage may be legally assigned by the court on the basis of genetic connection to one of the intending parents and the spouse or partner of that person.


Payment for a commercial surrogacy is prohibited. Only payment allowed will be limited to reasonable costs associated with a pregnancy .

*This article was edited on November 18th