Custody is having responsibility for the day-to-day care of the child.

Who has custody of the child?

Married parents are automatically joint custodians of their child.

In cases of divorce/separation, one parent is usually granted custody. The child(ren) reside permanently with the parent who has custody, while the other parent is granted access to the children. Separated/divorced parents can also be joint custodians, even if the child spends some or all of their time living with one parent, with both parents having an equal duty to care for the child.

 In the case of unmarried parents,

  • An unmarried mother is the sole custodian of the child.
  • An unmarried father can apply to the court for custody of his child under section 11(4)(b) of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 as amended. The father can apply for joint or sole custody.

The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 amended the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 to allow for a wider range of people to apply for custody:

  • A relative of the child.
  • A parent's spouse, civil partner, or cohabitant (for at least 3 years) where they shared parenting of the child for at least 2 years.
  • A person with whom the child resides can apply for custody if they have had day-to-day care of the child for at least 1 year and there is no parent or guardian to exercise guardianship.

The Application Process

Applications for custody are generally made in the District Court. Contact your local District Court for information on how to apply for custody.

You can represent yourself in court, however it is advisable to get legal advice and representation.

Contact details for solicitors is available here. To check your eligibility for legal aid, contact your local law centre.

Enforcement Orders

The Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 as amended by the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 (section 18A) provides that where a guardian or parent of a child has been granted custody by court order and it is unreasonably denied, a guardian/parent of the child may apply to the court for an enforcement order.

 An enforcement order may provide for one or more of the following:

  • That the applicant be granted additional access to the child.
  • That a parent/guardian be reimbursed for any necessary expenses sustained by the applicant in attempting to exercise his or her right to custody.
  • That either or both parties in order to ensure future compliance, attend one of the following: a parenting programme, family counselling, or receive information on mediation.


  • The Courts Service of Ireland answers the following questions: 
    • What is custody?
    • What happens when married parents separate?
    • What is the position where the parents are not married?
    • Can other people apply for custody?
    • How to make an application for custody
  • Questions arising for cohabiting couples in relation to custody of children is addressed by Citizens Information.
  • Treoir provides useful information and resources on the custody of children.


Organisation Telephone Email Website Address
Legal Aid Board

Tel: (066) 947 1000 

Locall No: 1890 615 200 Head Office, Quay Street, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry

Free Legal Advice Centres

Tel:+353 (0)1 8745690 

Locall: 1890 350 250 13 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1
Family Mediation Service

Tel:+353 (0)1 8747446

9 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1

The Courts Service

01 1 888 6000 15 – 24 Phoenix Street North, Smithfield, Dublin 7

Tel: (0)1 6700120

Lo-call:1890 252084 14 Gandon House, Custom House Square, IFSC, Dublin 1, Ireland

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF