New legislation will allow for the adoption of children by same-sex civil partners for the first time.
The general scheme of the Children and Family Relationships Bill was published today by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. The proposals seek to update family law to take account of the growing complexity and diversity of modern families.
Existing laws dating from the 1950s state that only married couples or sole applicants can seek to adopt a child. New laws would extend the right to apply to adopt to same-sex civil partners. Other proposals include measures to:
* Extend automatic guardianship to unmarried fathers who cohabit for a specified period with the child’s mother;
* Allow civil partners, step-parents, those cohabiting with the biological or adoptive parent to apply for guardianship or custody of a child;
* Ban commercial surrogacy, but permit altruistic surrogacy, as is the case in countries such as the UK, Australia and Canada;
* New penalties to ensure parental compliance with access orders. These options - which include compensatory time - are designed to more onerous if a parent persistently refuses to comply with court orders;
* Reform child maintenance laws so the courts treat all children equally irrespective of the circumstances relating to their conception and birth when making child support orders;
* Encourage the use of mediation to resolve disputes relating to children between estranged parents;
In a statement, Mr Shatter said there was urgent need to modernise family law to cater to cater to the needs of diverse family types.
The draft Bill seeks to provide legal clarity for all families in terms of their parental rights and responsibilities, with a central focus on what is in the best interests of the child, he said.
"Legislation in this area cannot be a one-size-fit- all solution but must, in a creative and pragmatic way, reflect the needs of families and children in 21st century Ireland," he said.
Mr Shatter said because the issues were complex and sensitive, it was important that the public and various interest groups had a chance to be consulted before the legislation goes before the Oireachtas.
He has requested that the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality - in conjunction with members of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children - undertake a consultation process on his proposals for the Bill.
He has requested the committee to complete any observations it may have before Easter.