Custody of a child can be automatic, by an agreement between both parties, or by a judge's decision. Here's how they work.
You may already have automatic custody rights. This means you do not have to apply to court for custody of your child. The following people have automatic rights:
- A mother who is not married to the father of their child has automatic sole custody of the child.
- Married spouses living together have joint custody
Custody by agreement
Both parents agree on joint custody
You can reach agreement about custody arrangements for your children. This can be done together, or with help from a mediator or solicitor. You might want to ask a judge to make this agreement a Rule of Court. This means that it is treated the same as a court order and can be legally enforced like one.
Custody decided by the court
If you do not have automatic rights or cannot reach agreement, you can apply to the court for custody. Below are examples of people who need to apply to court. You may find yourself in an exact or similar situation. This is not an exhaustive list.
Most court applications are made to the District Court. They can also be made to the Circuit Court, often as part of an application for judicial separation or divorce.
You might want to get legal advice to better understand your particular situation.
Parents disagree about custody
Where the parents cannot agree, any parent can apply to the court for for joint or sole custody. The judge may consider the child's views if the child's age and level of understanding are considered appropriate.
Relatives of the child
Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and grandparents can apply to the court for custody of a child.
Guardians of the child
Any person who is currently a guardian, including a temporary guardian, who does not have custody may apply to the court for sole or joint custody.
Step-parent, civil partner or cohabitant
A person who lives with the child and is or was married to, or in a civil parternship, or has been a cohabitant of the parent for a minimum three years may apply to the court for custody. They must also have co-parented the child for at least two years.
A person who has provided for the child’s day-to-day care for a continuous period of more than one year may also apply to the court for custody. This applies where the child has no parent or guardian who is willing or able to exercise the rights and responsibilities of a guardian.
Check if you can apply
If you would like to check if you are eligible to apply for custody, you can use our quick 'Eligibility Checker' below.
Check if you can apply for Custody
By answering a series of simple questions, you will be able to check if you are eligible to apply for custody. Outcomes are based on your answers, but situations can be complex and you might want to get legal advice to better understand your options.
No data is being recorded or sent during the process.