The Family Courts Bill 2022 was published on 1st December 2022. The Bill provides for the establishment of a Family High Court, Family Circuit Court and Family District Court as divisions within the existing court structures. The aim is to develop a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts families at the centre of its activities, facilitates access to specialist supports and encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution in family law proceedings where possible.
The Bill includes a set of guiding principles intended to be followed by all those involved in the family courts. These principles include, inter alia:
The Bill proposes the establishment of a separate division of courts to be known as the Family Courts being District, Circuit and High Courts with each jurisdiction having a principal family law Judge and separate dedicated family law judges.
The Bill substantially reforms the existing family court system and has been welcomed overall. However, the Bill has also been criticised, in particular, for the proposal to increase the jurisdiction of the District Court to €1 million and to permit the District court to deal with judicial separation, divorce, civil partnership and cohabitant cases where the market value of the property involved is less than €1 million. It has been suggested that increasing the volume of cases to be dealt with in the District Court in this way could lead to a significant backlog, creating long delays.