New family law handbook reflects legal and societal change in Ireland



Pictured: Judge Rosemary Horgan, president of the District Court and Keith Walsh, solicitor, chair of the Law Society of Ireland's family & child law committee. Photograph: Jason Clarke Photography.
Pictured: Judge Rosemary Horgan, president of the District Court and Keith Walsh, solicitor, chair of the Law Society of Ireland’s family & child law committee. Photograph: Jason Clarke Photography.

Leading family law practitioners from across Ireland gathered at Blackhall Place yesterday for the launch of the Law Society of Ireland’s new handbook, Family Law in Ireland – Code of Practice.

Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, was joined by award-winning family solicitor Keith Walsh and Judge Rosemary Horgan, president of the District Court, to launch the handbook, which the Law Society said seeks to set new standards for a more “understanding and empathetic legal system”.

The handbook is the first update in the official code of practice for family law practitioners since 2008. Since then, Irish society has “changed completely”, said Mr Walsh, citing the crash of the banks, the return of forced emigration and the economic crisis as core reasons for the subsequent slump in family law proceedings as separating couples could no longer afford expensive divorce litigation.

The law has also changed significantly since 2008, with new core legislation such as the Child and Family Relations Act 2015, as well as constitutional change brought about by the marriage equality referendum, fundamentally changing the way family law operates in Ireland.

 Judge Rosemary Horgan, President of the District Court, Ken Murphy, Director General of the Law Society of Ireland, and Keith Walsh, solicitor, Chair of the Law Society of Ireland Family & Child Law Committee at the launch of the Law Society of Ireland Family Law in Ireland - Code of Practice launch at Blackhall Place on Thursday 14 September. Photograph: Jason Clarke Photography.
Judge Rosemary Horgan, president of the District Court; Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society; and Keith Walsh, solicitor, chair of the Law Society’s family & child law committee. Photograph: Jason Clarke Photography.

Significant new standards have been introduced in the new code of practice. Couples who choose to proceed to court must first sign a certificate verifying that they have been fully advised on the alternatives to litigation. This was the “gold seal” of the new handbook, said Judge Horgan, who is an avid advocate of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) wherever appropriate as a means of sparing emotional and financial strife for all parties involved.

The handbook also seeks to put the voice of the child at the centre of proceedings. Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the special rapporteur for child protection, told Irish Legal News that “children will no longer be passive passengers in proceedings”. He said that the new code of practice will put the interests of the child at the heart of proceedings, rather than the focus being on on the assets of the marriage.

He said: “It is of vital importance that we put children at the centre of these proceedings, because they can see divorce as almost akin to a bereavement, and unless we help children through the divorce process, it risks consequences for the child’s mental health as they move into adulthood.”

The updated code of practice is also distinguished by its focus on transparency. Judge Horgan noted that transparency had been a major concern in the family law in recent years, and said the new standards will guard against “strange happenings in closed family court”.

Indeed, the handbook itself is a testament to this new commitment to transparency - it is available for download on the Law Society website.

The updated handbook was similarly welcomed by legal practitioners. Prominent family law barrister Inge Clissmann SC told ILN: “It is wonderful to see a code of this type, with these values, introduced in Ireland. Without a doubt, it will be applied vigorously by all involved.”

Kevin Burns, Irish Legal News