Custody, Guardianship and Access
There is a substantial amount of confusion in the media in terms of the difference between custody, guardianship and access. In mediation we are more concerned with parents discussing headings such as parenting plans, the children’s access to each of us and our parental responsibilities. It is important to note that our perception of terms such as “custody” is heavily influenced by foreign TV and media. Custody in Ireland is quite different to the definition used in other countries.
The party who has custody has day to day care and control of the children. It is not uncommon for the courts to make joint custody orders in respect of children subsequent to a separation or divorce. Generally, these orders will be subject to a proviso that the children primarily reside with one or other of the parties.
The majority of work conducted by family mediation service throughout Ireland and the U.K. relates to making arrangements for children.
Joint custody does not mean that the parties will enjoy access to the children 50% of the time. Practical day-to-day living arrangements generally do not facilitate a 50-50 split in terms of time with the children. Many couples have to work around this harsh reality after a separation.
Guardianship, by contrast, is the right of a parent to be involved in all the major decisions affecting the welfare and upbringing of a child to include, education, health, religious, moral and monetary concerns.
An unmarried mother will automatically be the guardian of her children when they are born. By contrast, an unmarried father must apply to the District Court to be appointed guardian of his children. Parents can also be appointed guardians by deed. However, our experience has shown that for documentation and state certification purposes a consent order of either the District Court or Circuit Court is advantageous for the parents of a child.
Custody, guardianship and access arrangements are best resolved quickly and efficiently through family mediation. No other process offers a quicker or more cost-effective solution to resolving access, guardianship and custody arrangements than mediation.
Access arrangements are best resolved by parties outside of a contentious court environment. Acrimonious court proceedings in respect of custody and access can not only damage the parties involved themselves but also their children whereby the level of trust and communication between the parties is erroded. Couples can work out and agree access arrangements for their children going forward around their daily lives.
At Family Mediation Ireland we are committed to helping couples resolve issues relating to the welfare of their children. Most families will conclude access arrangements regarding children in five mediation joint sessions spread out over a two day period. This will generally include, regular as well as holiday access arrangments. Such parenting plans will often include sections relating to educational matters, dietary concerns, passport issues, travel arrangements, bed-time arrangements, disciplining and parenting guidelines to mention but a few.
The process offers families the flexibility required to tailor make appropriate arrangements for children whilst taking into account parental responsibilities and obligations.