The current family law system is “broken” and failing the most vulnerable people in Irish society, a conference has heard.
Treoir, the national federation of services for unmarried parents and their children, said both the legal aid and the family mediation services were seriously under-resourced.
At Treoir's annual general meeting, keynote speaker Helen Coughlan, vice-chairperson of the Law Society's Family & Child Law Committee, said: “The current family law system is broken and failing the most vulnerable in our society.
She said the longer the issue of legal aid was ignored the more the country was contributing to a “justice gap”, with one inequality compounding another.
Treoir chief executive Damien Peelo said there are “significant problems” with how the legal system and family courts operated.
“The family mediation service is grossly under-resourced and this has significant consequences for shared parenting and for parents unable to afford often costly legal services.
“Calls to our national information service tell a painful story of people's difficulties in accessing legal services and how the family courts exacerbate tensions between vulnerable parents.”
He called on Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to introduce a properly resourced alternative dispute resolution system.
“We need a family law system that is fit for purpose and that everyone, irrespective of means, can access.”
It was pointed out that while the voice of the child can now be heard in custody/access and guardianship hearings that no resources have been provided to pay for an expert report.
The family courts system has been repeatedly criticised.
Earlier this month, Chief Justice Frank Clarke warned the Government that the family law courts required “the most urgent attention” and operated in “dreadful conditions”.
The country's top judge said that although the site for the new family courts facility is “shovel ready” not enough money had been given for it.
The Irish Examiner reported last month that the Courts Service estimated the new Family Law Centre and Children's Court complex would cost up to €140 million - but that the Department of Justice was only allocating a budget of €80m.
The Courts Service said that if it got the necessary funding, the complex would take “approximately four to five years” to build.
The location of the Family Law Centre and Children's Court, on Hammond Lane, beside the Four Courts, was announced almost four and a half years ago.