FAMILY COURTS BILL 2022 – IS REFORM ON THE RIGHT ROAD?

Family Courts Bill 2022 was referred to in the Government and Justice Plan 2022 and forms part of the Family Justice Strategy 2022 -2025

The aim of the Family Court’s Bill 2022 (the Bill) is to provide for a more efficient and user-friendly family court system for a variety of family law proceedings. The Bill has is currently progressing through its second stage in Seanad Éireann,
As Minister for Justice Helen McEntee stated that the Bill “forms an intrinsic part of the reform of the family justice system and will provide many of the building blocks essential to these reforms”. A key part of the strategy is the construction of a purpose-built Family Law Court complex at Hammond Lane in Dublin which will replace the existing District Court in Essex Street, and the Circuit Court in Phoenix House. The Minster indicated that this was be completed by 2026, however at the time of writing in mid 2023, work is yet to commence on the building.

The main changes as detailed in the Bill include:
• Introducing a specific division in the Courts, namely, Family High Court, a Family Circuit Court and a Family District Court, each dealing with family law matters as appropriate to its jurisdiction.
• That greater proportion of non-contentious family law matters to be dealt with at District Court level, thus minimising the costs for litigants. The District Court will be able to deal with judicial separation and divorces where the assets of the marriage do not exceed one million euro.
• Judges will be assigned on a full-time basis to the Family Court divisions and serve a minimum of three years in the division. These will be judges who, by reason of their training or experience, are suitable to deal with matters of family law. Ongoing professional training in family law will be required.
• It is proposed that new positions of Principal Judge of the Family High Court, Family Circuit Court and Judge of the Family District Court will be created to ensure proper and effective management of these Courts.
• A dedicated Family Law Rules Committee ( or and Family Law Sub-Committees of the general Courts Rules Committees) will be established. This it to ensure that the family law rules of court are coherent and applied with consistency across all levels of the family courts.
• Proceedings will be held in a different building or room from which other court sittings are held or on different days or at different times from other court sittings. This is a improvement where at present, usually in the District Court, family law cases could be heard on the same day as debt collection or criminal matters.

Under the Bill, the Courts and practitioners in family law proceedings will be required to have regard to certain key principles including:
• The best interests of every child involved or likely to be affected by the outcome of family law proceedings shall be a primary consideration in the conduct of the proceedings.
• The child’s views should be ascertained, where practicable, and given due weight, having regard to the child’s age and maturity.
• The promotion and engagement by the court in active case management practices.
• The court should encourage and facilitate, as far as possible, alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation – except in cases where this would not be appropriate, such as domestic violence cases.

The publication of the Bill marks an important milestone in efforts to reform the Irish Family Courts system however the extension of the jurisdiction of the District Court to include judicial separation and divorce will only add additional pressure to an already overwhelmed court. In additional to the Courts, investment will be needed in the Court services; more registrars, more facilities in court buildings, better funding for legal aid and additional supports such as mediation.

If you have any questions on family law, contact our Family Law Partner Máire McMahon (mmcmahon@dtryan.ie) or in our Cahir office at 052 7441244