Family matters: Your local Citizens Information Centre is here to help!
Citizens Information Centres (CICs) in Co. Wicklow deal with a lot queries regarding relationship and marital breakdown particularly at this time of the year and this has been amplified as a consequence of the pandemic. One of the biggest concerns most separating couples have is what will happen to the family home and if there are children, who will get custody.
We would always advise separating couples to try to come to an amicable separation agreement whereby they agree the terms of their separation. If this is not possible we can offer to refer clients to a mediation service. This service is provided free of charge and can assist couples to agree the terms of their separation or alternatively couples can source their own private mediation service. If this is not possible or one party refuses to engage, the other party may be left with no other option than to pursue a legal separation/divorce via the courts.
At this stage it may be beneficial but not obligatory, to engage the services of a solicitor. Solicitor’s fees can be costly so it is important to get a quotation. . Your local CIC offers a referral service to Free Legal Advice Clinics (FLAC). This is a free service which allows clients to get basic legal advice from a qualified lawyer. Eilis Barry, Chief Executive, FLAC, states “FLAC work closely with the Citizens Information Services to provide Free Legal Advice Clinics to people who otherwise would have no access to advice in a difficult situation. In our experience, family law queries are always high at this time of year and we have found that Covid has made things even worse.”
Depending on the clients’ means they may be entitled to Legal Aid. In order to qualify for Legal Aid an individual’s disposable income cannot exceed €18,000; Your local CIC can assist you in completing the application form.
Each person has the right to reside in the family home unless they agree otherwise or there is a court order for one person to leave.Neither party can sell, mortgage, lease or transfer the family home without the consent of their spouse. Similar protection is provided for the shared home of civil partners in civil partnership legislation.
Custody refers to the day-to-day care, residency and upbringing of dependent children. In cases of judicial separation or divorce, there will be an order made for either shared or sole custody. Sole custody means the children live permanently with the parent who has custody, the other parent may be granted access to the children at agreed times, this can include overnight access. If one parent is denying the other parent access to their children, we would suggest that the parent being denied access should apply to their local district court for an access order.
There is a legal responsibility on both parents, whether married or unmarried, to maintain dependent children and on spouses/civil partners to maintain each other in accordance with their means. There is often a misconception that there is a specific amount of maintenance paid per child. This is incorrect. Maintenance is calculated according to the income and expenses of both parents. If one parent refuses to pay maintenance, an order can be sought through the local district court. It is not always necessary to engage legal representation to do this.
Martina Cronin, Development Manager, South Leinster Citizens Information Service/ Co. Wicklow the service has been dealing with family law queries after Christmas and concludes that “we are always here to help with such matters and will refer clients to experts in this area when required”.
Funded by the Citizens Information Board , the range of areas covered by the Citizens Information Service (CIS) are extremely wide including social welfare rights and entitlements and other social issues such as employment, health services, housing, education, family matters and consumer rights on which people need access to information.
A growing number of customers require in-depth assistance and CIS plays an important role in providing advocacy with, or on behalf of, those people who need it, including people with disabilities, migrants, refugees, lone parents, the Travelling Community, prisoners, geographically isolated people and those who may not have access to digital resources. Basically anyone working or living County Wicklow who has an issue that needs addressing or is at a crossroads in their lives.
For anyone needing impartial, confidential, non-judgemental and informed advice and support the CIS is here to help, throughout the pandemic and as we emerge from the pandemic. There are many ways to access our services. Our website www.citizensinformation.ie is packed full of helpful information.
To find out our opening hours or if you would like us to address a specific query or to book an appointment with a member of our team please contact your local Citizens Information Centre in Bray CIC on 0818 07 6780. We are available from Monday to Friday and our services are free and confidential.