Know your rights: Access to children

My ex-partner has custody of our children and I have access to them at weekends. During the COVID-19 emergency, can they travel to my home?

The social distancing and travel restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic mean that families are not sure about how access arrangements should operate. COVID-19 has also put additional stresses on families because access to the courts has been severely restricted. The President of the District Court , the Family Lawyers Association of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland have published guidance on access issues during the COVID-19 emergency.

The key points are:

  • Travel between parents’ homes is allowed for the purpose of facilitating access. Parents are advised to have a copy of the court order with them when travelling for access.
  • The best interests of the child or children involved is the most important consideration, particularly if the child has a compromised immune system.
  • Parents are encouraged to come to their own arrangements for additional or alternative remote contact, such as telephone/Skype/Facetime/WhatsApp, to allow children to have extensive contact with the other parent while reducing the risk of the spread of COVID-19. Parents should make a note of any temporary agreement by text or email.
  • Parents should consider the living arrangements of everyone involved, especially where a parent either is, or lives with someone, in a vulnerable group.
  • Court orders in relation to access remain in place and should be complied with as much as possible, unless otherwise agreed by the parents.
  • If there is no court order in place and an arrangement has been working between parents, this arrangement should continue, unless otherwise agreed by the parents.
  • COVID-19 cannot be used as an excuse to ignore a court order.

Currently, the courts around the country are restricted to urgent business. Applications for breach of access or maintenance are not generally considered to be urgent. Family law cases that were given a hearing date in the Circuit Court after the Easter break have been adjourned. The relevant court office will be in contact with all sides when a new date has been set. You or your solicitor should contact the relevant court office if you believe the matter is urgent. You can get up-to-date information on the Courts Services’ website courts.ie.

If you need support and mediation, the Legal Aid Board has a Legal and Mediation Information Helpline on 1890 615 200 or 01 646 9600, Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 12.30pm and 2.00pm to 4.00pm. You can also contact the Family Mediation Service on 01 646 9637 for general queries on family mediation for existing clients of the mediation service or people who wish to register for family mediation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Citizens Information Centres are offering a phone and email service. You can access information and advice from:

  • The Citizens Information Phone Service: call 0761 07 4000, Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm
  • Your local Citizens Information Centre: find the phone number on the Find a Centre page on citizensinformation.ie.
  • Our email channel: email covid19@citinfo.ie, include your telephone number and and an information officer will call you back within 2 working days.