It used to be the case in Ireland that getting engaged to somebody was akin to entering into a legally binding contract. Nowadays, though you may be seen as having a moral obligation to that person, you no longer have a legal obligation. However, as will be discussed, this does not mean that getting engaged is without legal consequence.
Tag Archives: Marriage
While we all may have heard of a “common law marriage”, whereby a couple live together as husband and wife without actually being legally married, the concept is not recognised under Irish law. Although the family is recognised and protected in Article 41.1 as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society”, the State still holds the institution of marriage above all non-marital unions, as outlined in my article on the rights of the marital family. Nonetheless, non-marital families are afforded some protections and rights under Irish law.
Historically, one of the relationships with the fewest amount of rights was that of unmarried/natural father and his child. While a natural father’s rights have increased dramatically in recent years, they still do not come close to those of a father who is married to the mother of the child. Indeed, a natural father has no constitutional rights to his child whatsoever, so it is to statute that we must turn. Continue reading
Article 41 of Bunreacht na hÉireann confers “inalienable and imprescriptible rights” on the family and declares these rights as being “antecedent and superior to all positive law”. These rights are conferred on the family as a single unit, and not on the individuals that make up that unit. This was summed up succinctly by Costello J in Murray v. Ireland  when he described the rights as belonging to “the institution itself”. But what exactly are these rights? They are not enumerated in the Constitution and so, once again, it has been left to the courts to do so.
Apart from the family unit itself (see my previous post for a legal definition of the term “family”), the scope of family law widens to include unmarried couples and their children, if any. There are also some instances in which someone outside the ‘parent-child’ dynamic may become involved in family law proceedings. These include cases of adoption, or when someone other than the parent of the child wishes to have some rights in relation to the custody or guardianship of that child (usually, grandparents or the HSE). Continue reading