Irish-U.S. family law explained

The Irish judiciary, however, may pass moral judgment because they are specifically empowered to take fault into account in deciding who gets what. 

Child custody in New York involves physical and legal custody, and such determinations are made on the basis of the “best interests of the child.”

In Ireland, all married parents are automatically legal custodians of their children (known as guardianship), and this cannot be taken away as a result of separation or divorce. 

Physical custodial decisions in Ireland are determined on the basis of the “best welfare of the child.” Unlike New York, this is specifically defined under Irish law to include the child’s best religious and moral welfare.

Divorce legislation was first enacted in New York in 1787. More than 200 years would go by before it took root in Ireland. 

Last year, about 5,000 people applied for a decree of divorce in Ireland, but the divorce rates in Ireland remain the lowest in Europe.

Both the New York and Irish systems have room for reform, but each is moving towards greater promotion of mediation and collaborative divorce processes, to give people the option of trying to keep responsibility for family decisions in their own hands.

Sheila Agnew is a matrimonial and family law attorney with Moses & Singer LLP in New York City, and, an Irish solicitor. The article expresses her personal comments and does not provide legal advice or create a client-attorney relationship.


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