Our family law legislation is designed in such a way as to support as far as possible parties involved in or contemplating proceedings in court. The legislation on separation, 1989, divorce, 1996, and guardianship, 1997, is framed to ensure that couples are fully aware of the alternatives to judicial separation, divorce, custody and access proceedings and to assist attempts at reconciliation. It encourages couples to think in terms of agreeing the key elements of a separation or divorce or the care of a child in advance of court proceedings, and where proceedings come before the court, an adjournment is possible to assist reconciliation or agreement on the terms of a settlement. The Legal Aid Board makes the services of solicitors and, where necessary, barristers available to persons of modest means at relatively little cost.
The Family Mediation Service facilitates couples to resolve amicably the terms of a separation or divorce, including the position concerning children. The Family Support Agency, established under legislation in 2001, gives statutory backing to the Family Mediation Service and the agency provides financial assistance to voluntary bodies engaged in family mediation and counselling. Substantial funding from the Exchequer is provided to the Courts Service, the Legal Aid Board, the Family Mediation Service and Family Support Agency to ensure support for families who are in dispute.
The operation of the family law systems I have mentioned are kept under review in the relevant Departments, including the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.