The person who has custody of the children makes the day-to-day decisions in relation to the children’s lives.

It is now common place for the circuit family court to give joint custody to parents. This does not mean that the children will literally spend the same amount of time with Mum and Dad, as given children’s schooling and other matters, this may not be desirable.

It does, however, seek to preserve a measure of equality between the parents going into the future, and with some exceptions, this is generally a good thing. Applications for custody are generally part of family law separation or divorce proceedings.

However, the Custody of children can sometimes be the sole basis of an application to court and such application might be made to District, Circuit or High Court. An issue of custody might arise for any number of reasons and generally such disputes are acrimonious and will usually travel the distance to court.


The term Access refers to the amount of time that the non-custodial parent or the parent with whom the children are not primarily resident spends with the children usually on a weekly basis.

Access can be the sole basis of an application to court and such application can be made to the District, Circuit or High Courts. Issues about custody and access are precisely the types of issue that would be better resolved outside the court system either collaboratively or by mediation. Court hearings generally do not foster trust between parents and do not improve communication.

With some notable exceptions, a family specialist will have no problem picking up on the exceptions; the vast majority of such cases revolve around a lack of trust between the parents. If the trust can be restored by improved communication, establishing rapport, consistency and responsibility on both sides and by having clear agreements then the vast majority of these cases could resolve amicably.


Married parents are joint guardians of their children. Being a guardian means that you have a say in all the major decisions to be made during a child’s upbringing e.g. schooling, religious upbringing, material welfare, health issues, moral issues and so forth.

An unmarried mother is automatically a guardian of her children whereas an unmarried father must apply to court for appointment if it cannot be agreed between the parents.

Generally, this is an issue that could well be resolved between the parents collaboratively or meditatively. Most applications, however, are made to the District Court.

Child Abduction

The High Court has jurisdiction to deal with child abduction; the Hague Convention largely governs this issue.

If a child is taken from his/her habitual place of residence into another State/Country without the permission of the custodial parent, a Hague Convention application may be made. Both countries involved must be signatories to the Hague Convention.

Such applications should be made quickly; therefore it is very important that you consult a specialist at the very earliest opportunity. Delay can defeat an application, because the longer a child is in a new place, the more reluctant a court will be to return the child to his/her habitual place of residence.

In general the children should be returned to their habitual place of residence, unless there are grave risks to the child in being so returned.