A few weeks ago a new bill was approved by the Irish government. It was the Child and Family Relationships Bill 2015. This was of particular interest to us because amendments to the adoption process were on the agenda for this bill. Although our adoption was made legal back in January, we were curious to see how things would be different had we only begun the process after the bill was introduced. It amounts to over one hundred pages and also covers assistive reproduction and surrogacy issues. The document itself is complex at times and I found the explanatory memorandum much easier to digest. Here are a few of changes that have been introduced to the adoption process since the bill has come into effect.
- Civil partners and co-habiting couples who have lived together for over three years are eligible to adopt. Previously only a single person or a married person could adopt a child (for both stepparent and intercountry adoption)
- The husband, civil partner or cohabiting partner of a parent can apply for guardianship if they have cared for the child for two years. This was not an option for my husband at the time of our application and its lack of availability was the driving force for our stepparent adoption. Although a step forward, there is an uncomfortable ambiguity with this aspect of the law. The guardianship has “limited rights” only concerns the “day-to-day” matters of a child. As a guardian, my husband would not have a say in the following scenarios: the right to make decisions on the child’s place of residence, the right to make decisions regarding the child’s religious, spiritual, cultural and linguistic upbringing,the right to decide with whom a child is to live, the right to consent to medical, dental or other health related treatment, the right to consent to the issue of a passport to the child and the right to place the child for or to consent to the child’s adoption.
- An unmarried father will automatically become the guardian of a child if they are living with the mother and playing an active role in raising the child. I think that this provision should have gone further to include unmarried fathers who are not living with the biological mother but can prove that they are actively taking on the responsibility of caring for the child over a considerable length of time. The relationship between the parents should be made separate from the welfare of the child.
- Children’s views are now taken into consideration with regards to court proceedings on guardianship, custody and access. The court may consider the child’s best interests in the context of relationships, psychological, emotional and spiritual well being. I thought that this was a given!
I was a little nervous that the changes made in the bill would have rendered the past two years pointless for our family. While I am delighted that there is some effort being made by the government to keep up with the modern Irish family, we are certain that we would have undergone the same process and adopted our son together anyway if the bill had come into effect earlier. While my husband would have gained certain guardianship rights after two years of caring for our son, he would legally have no voice when it came to the important aspects of our son’s upbringing. The bill also does not address the lack of involvement of an absent parent. A biological parent can still effectively abandon their child for years and apply for guardianship, access or custody if they have a change of heart. Stepparent adoption severs the rights of an absent biological parent and gives control back to the adoption applicants who are actively caring for the child.
I am deeply disappointed that the bill did not remove the need for a biological mother to adopt their own son. They could save hundreds of families so much heartache and stress if they made the necessary changes and addressed this bizarre and unfair law.
But when what would I write about? 😉