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The New Family Courts Bill Proposes Significant Changes to the Family Justice System

By June 14, 2023June 26th, 2024No Comments


The New Family Courts Bill Proposes Significant Changes to the Family Justice System. 

By Conor Cronin, Legal Intern


On the 16th of November 2022, the Government published the long awaited first National Family Justice Strategy. The Family Courts Bill was published two weeks later. If the Family Courts Bill is passed, it will be the first significant structural reform of the family justice system since the Law Reform Commission’s Report on Family Courts in 1996.  

The aim of the proposed reforms is to modernise the practice of family law and provide a family law system with adequate funds which are desperately needed due to the high volume of family law litigation since the introduction of Judicial Separation in 1989, Divorce in 1996 and Civil Partnership and Cohabitation Law in 2010. 

Specialised Family Law Courts 

As it stands, there is no specialist Family Law High Court. The proposed reform suggests the establishment of specialised Family Law Courts, comprising of District, Circuit and High Courts. Each jurisdiction will have a principal family law judge. Instead of each local jurisdiction hearing family law cases, there will be specialised family law court hubs set up around Ireland. All family law cases will be heard here. As a result, local courts will lose their jurisdiction to deal with family law.  

District Court Jurisdiction 

In relation to the District Court the proposed reform suggests increasing the jurisdiction of the District Court to €1 million and to permit the District Court to deal with Judicial Separation, Divorce, Civil Partnership, and Cohabitants cases where the market value is less than €1 million.  

How well will this work in practice? 

The District Courts are dealing with the highest volume of family law cases and there are concerns that the proposed reform could overwhelm the district courts. According to the Courts Service Report in 2019, the District Court had a 51,750 family law cases, while the Circuit Court only heard 7,330 and just over 350 in the High Court. In addition to the increase of District Court jurisdiction, Section 77 amends the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976 to increase the maintenance from €500 to €1500 a week for a spouse, civil partner, or cohabitant and from €150 to €500 for a child. Such reform would cause a massive decline in family law cases heard in the Circuit Court, effectively resulting in an even heavier burden on the District Court.  

Renovations of the Courts 

The Family Law Bill 2022 is certainly going to improve the structure of the family law court system, and the funding of this bill will focus on the establishments of specialised family courts and the renovation of the court buildings that need to be modernised. Minister McEntee announced the replacement of the facilities in Dublin such as Dolphin House, Chancery Street, Phoenix House, and the Four Courts with a Family Law Court Complex in Hammond Lane, Dublin.  Hammond Lane is a new project under the National Development Plan 2021-2030. The construction of this specialist family law courthouse in Dublin is long overdue as the current facilities for family law participants in Dublin are outdated and barely fit for purpose. 

Joint applications 

It is proposed in the bill that joint applications are going to be permitted. This would mean that spouses can make a joint application for a decree of divorce or decree of judicial separation. Civil partners can also make a joint application for a decree of dissolution of civil partnership.  This will support mediation and alternative dispute resolution in such cases. However, this may cause issues if one party is more vulnerable than the other, potentially facilitating discrimination and unfairness if a party is financially more secure than the other. 


The Family Law Bill is certainly overdue. If the Bill is passed it may be worth the wait if we see significant improvements in the family law facilities and specialised Family Courts with judges dedicated solely to family law matters. With the Family Law Bill 2022 in the second stage of the Seanad, the flaws of the Bill remain at the centre of discussion. The District Court system is going to be faced with an overwhelming number of cases while the Circuit Court will hear less cases due to the increase of maintenance adherent to section 77 of the proposed bill which amends the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976.