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This module addresses the law as it relates to families and their members, with particular emphasis on the care of children and on legal responses to relationship breakdown. This is an area that has seen considerable change – both social and legal – in recent years, though it remains a site of controversy, resistance and debate. Society has experienced, in particular, a marked growth in family diversity, while family life has become in some respects more complex and fluid. Children, and their best interests, increasingly feature as a focus of family law. This module seeks to place these developments in a constitutional and human rights context, examining the extent to which the law has kept pace with the reality of the modern experience of family. It asks what the law can do to maintain and encourage strong, cohesive families in which children, in particular, can flourish.
The module addresses the full life-cycle of the family and of its members. It addresses, in particular, current legal developments in the area of reproduction and assisted human reproduction (as well as surrogacy). The module examines the position of the child under the Constitution of Ireland 1937, the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It interrogates the law as it relates to the care and upbringing of children, with particular emphasis on the concepts of adoption, guardianship, custody and access, and the provision of financial support for children. The module also examines legal responses to children and other family members identified as being at risk, with a particular focus on the Child Care Act 1991, as amended, and the responsibilities of the Child and Family Agency, as well as child abduction, and domestic violence.
The module, moreover, will examine and critique the law as it relates to marriage and relationship formation, with particular reference to the definition and formalities of marriage and civil partnership, and the law of nullity. It will emphasise recent developments such as the extension of marriage to same-sex couples, and recent laws that enhance the rights and obligations of unmarried couples, including civil partnership and the law addressing non-marital cohabitation. Legal responses to relationship breakdown, including judicial separation, divorce and civil partnership dissolution, will feature prominently, with some attention being paid to the court-ordered remedies available following judicial separation, divorce and dissolution, and the criteria for applying these remedies.
The module seeks throughout to highlight the increasingly international dimensions of family law, with particular emphasis on cross-border recognition of relationships and court orders, and the free movement of families. It also emphasises the importance, where appropriate and feasible, of seeking to resolve disputes by conciliation, mediation and collaborative practices, and will examine the main characteristics of separation agreements and the potential use of pre-nuptial agreements.
Any aspect of this module may be changed in any given academic year, subject to the discretion of the module lecturer.