We all have to agree that grandparents are hugely important in the lives of our children and especially so where parents do not live together. They can and do provide invaluable love, care and support. Where a dispute arises it is open to the grandparent seek access to a child. It involves two applications. The first application is applying for leave to apply which involves asking the courts permission to apply for access to the child. The Court will have regard to the grandparents connection with the child, any risk of the application disrupting the life of the child or indeed any possibility that the child might come to harm. The Court will also have regard to the wishes of the child’s guardian(s). If the Court gives permission the grandparent can then go on to obtain a date for hearing in relation to the application for access. It should be noted that there is new legislation not yet commenced where under the new Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 a grandparent will be able to apply for guardianship in relation to a child in their case.
There are huge practical difficulties before the District Court in relation to couples breaking up in a non-marital situation where an unmarried mother becomes entirely dependent on the father of her child for support. Where the relationship ends suddenly for whatever reason the District Court Judge will have serious practical difficulties in measuring and making an order for the right amount of maintenance. If the judge orders the maximum maintenance allowable in the District Court of €650 per month and an application is pending from the mother for rent allowance that sum may be taken into account by the Department and most of it could be eaten up by the rent allowance living little or nothing to support the child of the relationship. It appears that the more the father can afford the worse of the child will be – particularly if the father is not minded to providing support other that as directed by the Court. The Judge has no power to compel the father to pay the rent for any period of time thus allowing an adjustment period while the mother can secure alternative means of support for herself and the child. It appears that the mother may have the option of applying for legal aid through a Law Centre and seeking maintenance for herself under the new cohabitants legislation where the parties have a child and have lived together for more than two years. Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to test this yet as Private Practitioners are not authorised to represent clients in the Circuit Court leaving the mother with an awful dilemma where she can only seek maintenance for the child and may or may not be able to survive given that the maintenance will not pay the rent but will be wholly eaten up by the rent allowance leaving little or nothing to live on. This situation may well leave mothers and their children with no other alternative but to rely on sheltered accommodation where spaces are few and far between. It is vital to remember though that a mothers custodial rights in Ireland it appears are not in any way diminished by her having to resort to seeking sheltered accommodation.