APPLICATIONS for child custody soared by 44% last year, according to statistics published yesterday.
The number of care orders and supervision orders issued for children in the family law courts also rose last year, as did the number of safety orders in domestic violence orders.
The Courts Service revealed the figures as a new Family Mediation Service (FMS) was launched to help some families avoid costly and lengthy litigation and spare children the pain of a long legal estrangement.
The statistics, published yesterday by the Courts Service, show that the largest change was in applications for custody of children — up 44% to 1,380 in 2010.
Overall, applications to the District Court in the areas of guardianship, custody and access rose by 15% to 7,221 in 2010.
A legal source said the increase was not due to more marriages falling apart in the recession, as divorce and separation statistics have remained consistent.
Instead, more unmarried fathers have lost their jobs, and to claim allowances for their children — such as additional social welfare or points towards social housing — they need a court order to show they have part-time or full guardianship or custody.
Applications for access increased by 10% while applications for both custody and access rose by 8%.
Applications for guardianship by unmarried fathers rose by 12% in 2010 to 2,463.
Supervision orders rose by 16% to 731 last year, while care orders rose by 11% to 1,046. Most of those orders are made by the HSE in the District Court.
There was also a 7% rise in applications for safety orders, to a total of 3,561, although the number of applications for interim barring orders fell slightly, while barring order applications dropped 5% and protection orders fell by 7%.
More than half of all applications for domestic violence protections are from spouses.
The new Family Mediation Service is not means-tested and can allow for cases to be fast-tracked to Legal Aid Board services.
It was officially launched yesterday — along with a new Family Law Web Resource — by the Chief Justice, the Hon Mr Justice John L Murray at the Dolphin House Family Law court in Dublin’s Temple Bar.
The Chief Justice said: “Few are more aware of the need for meaningful alternatives to court action than the staff of Dolphin House, which is Ireland’s busiest family law office, accounting for one-third of all barring orders and 41% of all safety orders issued in the state.
“They are faced every day with the severe difficulties presented when the special bonds which normally keep a couple together, or provide safety for a family, can lead to the courts being asked to intervene to protect those in peril or to decide on intractable and painful issues.”
He said recent changes to Dolphin House were now augmented by the FMS, offering an alternative to litigation, briefing the interested parties prior to the issuing of any court proceedings and the provision of an FMS certificate that will fast-track the application through the Courts Service.
A new section of the www.courts.ie website will also feature accurate information about aspects of family law.
The Chief Justice said: “Behind these statistics is, of course, the anguish and hardship of each individual case, and these figures starkly underline the need for the individuals involved to receive the necessary support and assistance to address their circumstances in an appropriate and sensitive manner.
“When emotions are high and parties are in distress, it is vital to have an alternative to court action given that litigation can exacerbate the existing difficulties arising from a breakdown in family relationships, particularly where the welfare and future of children is at stake.”
* 44% increase in applications for child custody.
* 16% rise in applications for supervision orders.
* 11% rise in applications for care orders.
* 15% rise in applications across area of guardianship, custody and access.
* 7% rise in applications for safety orders
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