Fears family law reforms will ‘cause chaos’ in District Court

Fears family law reforms will 'cause chaos' in District Court

Keith Walsh

Plans to give the District Court jurisdiction over a wide range of family law matters worth up to €1 million are “very likely to cause chaos in the District Court”, a family lawyer has warned.

Keith Walsh, a prominent family law solicitor in Dublin, told Irish Legal News that changes to the jurisdiction of the District Court represent a “fatal flaw” at the centre of the Family Courts Bill 2022, which was published yesterday.

As it stands, the bill will increase the jurisdiction of the District Court to €1 million and allow the court to deal with judicial separation, divorce, civil partnership, cohabitant cases where the property involved is less than €1 million or more by agreement between the parties.

The jurisdiction of the District Court in the area of maintenance will be increased to €1,500 per week for a spouse and €500 per week for a child, removing the Circuit Family Court from most of these maintenance, divorce and judicial separation cases.

The High Court jurisdiction for these cases will remain €3 million, meaning that the Circuit Court will only deal with cases between €1 million and €3 million.

Mr Walsh said: “Anyone who has been in any District Court in the past 15 years is aware of the delays caused by the huge volume of cases this court is expected to deal with.

“It is rare for District Court judges to be able to devote any significant length of time to cases without creating a significant backlog and the District Court is a court of summary and local jurisdiction.

“This proposed change to move judicial separation, divorce and other cases down to the District Court will result not in better process, experience and outcomes for families but is very likely to cause chaos in the District Court, delay these cases as well as other family law cases which were already there and which currently are already experiencing significant delays around the country such as access, guardianship, maintenance cases.

“If this downgrading of judicial separation and divorce cases to the District Court takes place it risks undermining all the other very important reforms in the bill.

“The District Court is intended to be a court of summary and local jurisdiction. The proposed changes mean that it will not longer be local, in the sense that it will now be part of a specialised small number of family law ‘hubs’ around the country, in my estimate likely to be between eight to 12 in total, and it will no longer be summary.”

He added: “Family law has never received the resources needed to implement change properly and without resources the reforms will not take hold and will make a bad situation worse.”

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