Children and Family Relationships Act 2015

Two children walking in the woods

The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 (“the Act”) amends Family Law to extend parental rights and responsibilities to non traditional families.

It defines the rights and duties of guardians for the first time. The Act extends the scope of automatic guardianship.

Until the commencement of the Act on the 18th January 2016, mothers were the only automatic guardians of non marital children. The Act now provides that fathers who reside with the mother for not less than 12 months (3 of which must be after the birth of the child) are automatic guardians of a non marital child.

The Act also allows non parents such as step parents, civil partners, cohabitees and those caring for a child, to apply to become guardians of children. Certain requirements must first be met:-

  • The Applicant must be over 18 and must be married to, a civil partner of or cohabited for 3 years with the parent, and has shared day to day responsibility for the child for at least 2 years, or
  • The Applicant must have provided day to day care of the child for more than 12 months where the child has no parent or guardian willing to exercise the rights (the CFA must be notified).

No order can be made without the consent of the guardians unless the court is satisfied that the consent is unreasonably withheld and it is in the best interests of the child to make the order.

A novel concept was introduced to deal with breaches of access orders. A parent who has been denied access can now bring enforcement procedures for breach of an access order. Where appropriate, a Court can grant additional access in lieu of the withheld access or it can order that the defaulter reimburse the applicants expenses in trying to exercise the right of custody/access.

The Act is comprehensive and long overdue. 

Regrettably however, many of the provisions, such as those regulating Assisted Human Reproduction and IVF clinics have not yet been commenced.