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Same-sex couples will have the legal right to adopt

Confused about what new legislation will mean for families? Read on.
It’s the most important change in family legislation since the foundation of the state. It’s a really important bill. And obviously it requires adequate time for discussion and it will get that.

THOSE WERE THE words of Taoiseach Enda Kenny as he entered government buildings last year, ahead of a cabinet meeting where Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald briefed her colleagues on the Children and Family Relationships Bill, which was enacted yesterday.

kids Shutterstock / MCarper Shutterstock / MCarper / MCarper

There has been much talk – and a certain degree of confusion – as to what exactly the legislation entails and who it will impact.

So, who will it affect?

The act enables civil partners and cohabiting couples who have lived together for three years to jointly apply to adopt, something they could previously only do individually.

One member of a same-sex couple will be eligible for adoptive leave – this is at the discretion of the couple. The rights held by fathers in respect of parental leave will be extended to the second female partner where applicable.

If a spouse or partner has lived with a parent for three years and looked after the child for two years, they will be able to apply for guardianship or custody. The legislation will allow a relative of the child to apply for custody if they have looked after them for 12 months, where no guardian is able or willing to do so.

dad Shutterstock Shutterstock

Unmarried fathers will be given automatic guardianship rights if they have lived with their child’s mother continuously for a year, including three months after the birth.

Fitzgerald said today that the legislation recognises “the increasing diversity of family life”.

Its provisions, she said, “take a child-centred approach, making a child’s best interests the paramount consideration for a court in family law cases”.

In particular, these changes in law recognise that many children are being reared by step-parents or by a parent’s cohabiting partner. Step-parents, civil partners and cohabiting partners will be able to apply to become guardians of a child or for custody. It will be easier for grandparents and other key people in a child’s life to apply for access.

How is the act related to same-sex marriage?

It isn’t, technically. However, as outlined above, the legislation would extend the right to gay couples to jointly adopt a child – something they can currently only do individually.

In response to criticism from conservative groups such as the Iona Institute, Health Minister Leo Varadkar previously denied that the bill is about gay or lesbian couples.

It’s about children in the main and all people. And most of the people who avail of assisted human reproduction or surrogacy, or most of the people who are in the family courts, are actually heterosexual couples. So to try and turn that into some sort of same sex or gay issue I think is wrong.

leo cb live Leo Varadkar Screengrab / RTÉ.ie Screengrab / RTÉ.ie / RTÉ.ie

Additional reporting by Catherine Healy. 

Read: ‘Meeting my birth father for the first time was really a unique experience’

Read: €47,000 payout for woman who was discriminated against because she was pregnant

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