Breakdown of a marriage or other relationship


The breakdown of a marriage or other relationship is a difficult and traumatic process. There are many issues to be addressed such as financial support, the family home and parenting of children. Trying to sort out these issues can be very stressful. If the relationship has become abusive, you may need to get a safety, protection or barring order.

Marital relationships

If you are married, there are a number of legal options following a marital breakdown. The options available are:

A court can also grant a nullity decree which is a declaration that a valid marriage never existed.

Financial matters

In a marriage, there is a legal responsibility on both spouses to maintain each other and any children in accordance with their means. This means that any settlement agreed or imposed by the court should include a maintenance agreement. The issue of what happens to the family home also arises.

Separation or divorce may have tax implications. It is important to understand the different taxation options available and how maintenance payments affect taxation. You may need to get specialist tax advice before entering into arrangements that have capital gains tax implications.


Married parents are automatically joint guardians of their children. Separation or divorce does not change this. However, separation and divorce do have implications for custody and access to children.

Civil partnerships

The options available to those in civil partnerships where there is a breakdown in the relationship are similar to those available to married couples. The courts are able to grant a decree of nullity of civil partnership in broadly the same way as decrees of nullity of marriage are granted. The courts are also able to dissolve civil partnerships in a similar way to the granting of divorce, but the rules governing the dissolution of civil partnerships are different.

Cohabiting relationships

The rights of cohabiting couples are in general not recognised in Irish law. If the relationship breaks down, this has important implications for such things as property ownership. There is a redress scheme for cohabiting couples who have been in a long-term relationship or who have had children.


Where there are children, issues of custody, guardianship and access to the children are likely to arise. Also, while unmarried parents do not have a financial responsibility to maintain each other, both parents are responsible for the maintenance of their children.

Parenting alone

A separation, divorce or breakdown of a non-marital relationship can result in a one-parent family. There are a range of benefits and entitlements available to lone parents as well as organisations offering support. For example, One-Parent Family Payment is a payment for men and women who are bringing children up without the support of a partner. Further information is available on our page Parenting alone.

Grandparents and grandchildren

Grandparents play an important role in their grandchild’s life. However, some grandparents have difficulty seeing their grandchildren and spending time with them. They can find themselves excluded from the lives of their grandchildren, and this can be very upsetting for them and for the children involved. This can happen for many reasons, for example, if there is a breakdown in the relationship between the grandparent(s) and parent(s).

Grandparents do not have automatic rights in relation to their grandchildren, but there are steps you can take to improve your level of contact with them. Read our page Grandparents and grandchildren - your rights explained for more information.

Abuse and violence

If the relationship is abusive or violent, a safety, protection or barring order may be needed. Find information on domestic and sexual violence, as well as information on local and national support services, from

If you are concerned about violence in your home, you should contact your local Garda Station. Contact details for your local Garda station are available on the Garda Síochána website. You could also visit your family doctor who, apart from dealing with any possible injuries, can provide information on counselling and other supports.

To apply for a safety or barring order you must go to your local District Court Office. Contact details for your local District Court office are available from the Courts Service.

Child abduction

International child abduction occurs when a child is unlawfully removed from a country or unlawfully retained in a country. Reunite International, a UK charity, has child abduction prevention guides on its website. They give clear and concise information and practical steps to take if you fear your child is at risk of being abducted. The guides can help you gather information relating to your children, as well as information which may be required in the event of an abduction. The Irish Central Authority for international child abduction is located within the Department of Justice and Equality.

Legal and other supports

The Family Mediation Service offers a free service to help separating couples co-operate with each other to work out mutually acceptable arrangements. Tusla - the Child and Family Agency funds voluntary organisations that provide marriage and relationship counselling.

The Mediators' Institute of Ireland can provide a list of private accredited mediators.

Legal aid and advice is available from the Legal Aid Board in family law cases to people who satisfy a means test and whose case is considered to have merit. If you want to engage the services of a solicitor privately, the Law Society of Ireland maintains a list of solicitor firms throughout the country.

FLAC is an independent, voluntary organisation that operates a network of legal advice clinics throughout the country. These clinics are confidential, free of charge and open to all. Contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC services in your area.

Page edited: 22 July 2021