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For married couples, both parents are automatically Guardians of their children and have joint custody of them. For children born to unmarried parents, however, only the mother is automatically a Guardian. The father can become a Guardian by both parties swearing a Statutory Declaration or by the father applying to Court to be appointed a Guardian. A father who applies to court to be appointed a guardian is granted his request in the vast majority of cases and is only refused Guardianship in a small minority of cases where the Court considers it to be not in the best interests of the child.

Guardianship should not be confused with custody. Guardianship gives a right to have a say in the upbringing of the child whilst custody refers to the day to day control of a child. It is not necessary to have custody to be a Guardian.

Where a child resides primarily with one parent, whether married or unmarried, the other parent has rights of access to the child. There are no prescribed access rights and it varies from case to case. If access arrangements cannot be agreed upon by the parties then one party can apply to the District, Circuit or High Courts for an Order granting access. The majority of access Orders are made in the District Court.

In some cases where the relations between the parties is particularly bad a Court can order a report to be prepared for it to advise the court on what arrangements are in the best interests of the children. Such reports so also, however, add to the costs of the parties.

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