Family and Children’s Rights

Our family law team have experience in assisting clients achieve what is best for their children. We have a track record on resolving issues surrounding residence, contact, relocation and parental responsibility.  When matters don’t always work, we can assist with specific issues and prohibitive steps orders to resolve issues.

It can be very distressing when the Social Services intervene and scrutinise your family. We regularly act on behalf of the parents, grandparents and children in public law cases where social services are involved and are considering applying for an emergency protection orders, care orders, supervisions orders or freeing for adoption.

We have specifically advised on the international law element of family law, and specifically have provided specialised advice and representation to families who have been the victim of child removal or abduction,  and unaccompanied refugee children who have entered the jurisdiction without their parents.

Increasingly we are instructed in complex family cases that involve parents that show implacable hostility to the Orders of the Court and/or involve parental alienation. We have experience of providing robust advice and representation in such cases and regularly instruct leading experts to report and give evidence.

Our Department head is a member of the Northern Ireland Children Order Panel, Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Solicitor Panel and the UK & Ireland LGBT Family Law Institute. He is also a fellow of the International Association of Family Lawyers.

Team Phoenix offers a specialised service for those victims of domestic violence who require assistance in putting in place the appropriate safeguards and protections afforded by the Courts. We offer urgent appointments should you require an emergency non-molestation orders, exclusion/residence orders and prohibited steps orders.

We are at the forefront of assisting families that may be considered a modern family structure. We provide specialist advice to many parents in same sex relationships seeking parental responsibility, contact or share residence orders. We are also involved in test cases to do with same sex couples who have entered into informal donor arrangements that have then resulted in dispute. 


Ciaran Moynagh


Sinead Marmion


Ciaran Moynagh

Ciaran Moynagh is an experienced Solicitor Advocate with a diverse caseload that points to his passion for human rights & equality, family & matrimonial law and specialist criminal defence. 

Ciaran is a multi-award-winning solicitor with a reputation for both challenging public bodies and the decisions they make, and also representing the interests of his clients in family courts and criminal trials.

Ciaran acted in the same sex marriage legal challenge known as Petition X and also advised on the legislation ultimately used to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. As part of the Love Equality Consortium he was instrumental in the campaign for equal marriage including talks with NI’s political leaders. b

He represented the couple, Laura Lacole and Eunan O’Kane in the legal challenge which secured the right for couples in Northern Ireland to register humanist marriages. Other successful judicial reviews resulted in greater protection of the privacy of transgender people in the UK and access to fertility treatment for same sex couples.

Ciaran also acts for a number of charities mainly around potential interventions into legal challenges. He was instructed by the AIRE Centre in an immigration case before the European Court of Justice as well as for the Royal College of Midwives in JR 76 which challenged the prosecution of a mother for purchasing abortion pills online.

More recently he has advised and assisted with an application by Mr Lee to the European Court of Human Rights in the internationally debated matter of Lee -v- Asher’s Bakery, the so-called “gay cake” case.

Ciaran also has a passion for family and matrimonial law and regularly appears before Family Courts at all tiers. He is the Northern Ireland representative of the UK & Ireland LGBT Family Law Institute as well as a member of the Northern Ireland Children Order Panel.  In 2021 he was made a Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers as well as being added to the solicitor panel for the Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency. In his family work, Ciaran deals with private law contact / residence disputes that include complex issues such as emotional abuse commonly called parent alienation. He also regularly deals with public law family matters that have social services involved due to allegations of abuse, neglect or non-accidental injury.

Ciaran has specialist knowledge and expertise on same sex family’s creation and representation. Ciaran is one of the few lawyers in NI giving expert advice on both domestic and international surrogacy arrangements.

In a criminal context, Ciaran has been a long-standing member of the Belfast duty solicitor scheme. He has particular expertise in cases involving online legal issues, for example, social media harassment, revenge porn and so-called ‘paedophile hunters’ stings. Ciaran retains a criminal defence caseload exclusively dealing with complex fraud, terrorism and sexual offences providing robust representation right from police station right through to the Crown Court.


  • Ciaran holds practice certificates and advanced advocacy certificates for Northern Ireland and England & Wales enabling him to litigate in both jurisdictions.
  • Member of the Children Order Panel in Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency solicitor panel.
  • NI representative for the UK & Ireland LGBT Family Law Institute.
  • Ciaran is an Associate at Ulster University and CPD Training UK Limited and lectures regularly on equality, judicial review and advocacy matters. 
  • Trustee of The Rainbow Project and Community Foundation Northern Ireland.
  • Board of Governor at St Joseph’s College, Belfast.
  • Founding member of NI Lawyers with Pride.
  • Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers


  • Nominated for National Diversity Award Feb 2020
  • Outstanding Contribution Award by The Rainbow Project 2019
  • GNI Legal Representative of the Year & Editor’s Choice Award 2019
  • Humanist of the Year for work on termination of pregnancy and same sex marriage 2018
  • Belfast Pride LGBT Friendly Business of the Year 2016



  1. AS Judicial Review [2016] NIQB 89   – Trans Privacy

This case related to a trans man having information inserted on his marriage certificate, a public document, that could reveal his gender history. We successfully secured restriction of the document during the course of proceedings and he succeeded, and Court determined it was a breach of right to privacy. 

Full judgment here

2. AS2 Judicial Review [2020] NIQB 31 – No Timely Remedy

On foot of the above judgment delivered in 2016, the client waited for the Government to issue a new marriage certificate to comply with the judgment. Given their failure to issue in a timely matter, fresh proceeding issued in 2018 seeking the remedy and damages. The Government issued the marriage certificate during the course of proceedings and made an undisclosed ex-gratia payment. Proceedings were dismissed on foot of the desired result for the client.

Full Judgment here

3. Humanist Marriage Judicial Review [2017] NIQB 55 & [2018] NICA 25 

Model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O’Kane wanted to have a legally recognised humanist marriage. They did not want to have a secret or additional civil ceremony that was meaningless to them. Instead they want a humanist celebrant to conduct their humanist ceremony with close family and friends. The High Court ruled in the couple’s favour declaring humanist marriage was a manifestation of their belief and should be given equivalence to the privileges afforded to religious celebrants and ceremonies. The Attorney General appealed, and the couple again succeeded before the Court of Appeal. They had the first ever legally recognised NI humanist ceremony in 2018.

High Court Judgment here and Court of Appeal Judgment here

4. Application by Laura Lee for Judicial Review 

Laura Lee, sex worker and advocate initiated judicial review proceedings challenging the enactment of legislation that made Northern Ireland the only part of the UK where people can be convicted for paying for sex. She claimed this breach her right to privacy, work and put sex workers in greater danger. The case was granted leave but Ms Lee sadly passed away before full hearing. 

Media Coverage here

5. Gareth Lee -v- The United Kingdom- European Court of Human Rights 

Gareth Lee the plaintiff in the widely reported ‘gay cake’ case was successful in his discrimination claim at Belfast County Court and the NI Court of Appeal. However, the UK Supreme Court held in favour of the Bakery saying Gareth did not suffer discrimination. An Application to the ECHR is now lodged. 

County Court JudgmentCourt of Appeal Judgment and Supreme Court Judgment

6. Ermira Bajratari v Secretary of State for the Home DepartmentEuropean Court of Justice C-93/18

Intervention status granting full participation rights at the ECJ on behalf of The AIRE Centre. The case received a positive judgment that provides clarifications on the proportionality of restrictive measures adopted by Member States in relation to residence rights of Union citizen children and of their third-country national parents.

Full Judgment here

7. JR 76 – Challenge to Prosecution of Mother procuring Abortions Pills

Intervention status granting written intervention to the Northern Ireland Divisional was achieved on behalf of the Royal College of Midwives. Expert evidence of how criminalisation of professionals creates a chill effect restricting the care a midwife can provide. The prosecution against the mother did not proceed.

Full Judgment here

8. JR 111 – Gender Recognition Certificates

A trans women wished to challenge the need for medical reports when applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. The Court held that the reports were necessary but a diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ was no longer appropriate therefore a declaration of incompatibility issued. A secondary issue relating to the Belfast Trust not providing the necessary reports was then settled with the Trust committing to provide the necessary medical reports free of charge.

Full Judgment here and media here

9. JR 195 – Challenge to compulsory school start age

This challenge was brought by a father on behalf of his 4 year old son. His son was born prematurely on 1 July meaning he was on the cut off date to commence P1 as one of the youngest in his year. Northern Ireland has one of the youngest formal schooling start age and no provision for flexibility for extenuating circumstances. The Court upheld the claim confirming the statutory scheme was disproportionate in its operation by reason of its lack of flexibility and, thus, its incapacity to deal adequately with a case where requiring a child to commence full-time education at the current compulsory school starting age is clearly and demonstrably contrary to that child’s best interests. A declaration of incompatibility issued and the child was allow to commence another year at nursery.

Media here. High Court Judgment here and judgment on remedy here


  1. X Applications for Annulment of a Civil Partnership

This was the first application in UK to annul a civil partnership on the ground of gender transition. The Court granted the nullity order and the Applicant was able to convert their interim gender recognition certificate to a full certificate and enter a marriage.

2. Petition X – Same Sex Marriage

A declaration of validity in respect of a same sex marriage formed in London was sought to confirm a same sex marriage was valid and subsisting in Northern Ireland. This was strategic litigation to address the issue of same sex marriage in Northern Ireland. The High Court dismissed the case and the Court of Appeal overturned the decision confirming our client’s human rights were breached.

High Court Judgment here and Court of Appeal Judgment here

3. Dissolution of Civil Partnership formed in British Consulate Office in Australia

When Australia had no formal mechanism to recognise same sex couples’ relationships our client (originally from Northern Ireland) availed of a civil partnerships’ rights formed overseas and registered in the UK. The relationship broke down and we were able to issue proceedings in the High Court to dissolve the Civil Partnership and our client appeared by videolink.

4. Australian Couple with NI Surrogate.

An Australian couple originally from Ireland were the intended parents of their child born by way of surrogacy in Northern Ireland. Given the couple were not domiciled in the United Kingdom they could not achieve a Parental Order. We issued a Declaration of Parentage together with other ancillary applications allowing the commissioning father to be recognised and the family returned home.

5. Informal Sperm Donor Cases

A set of cases where we act for couples who have entered informal arrangement with a gamete/sperm donor outside of a licensed fertility clinic thus the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 does not apply. The gamete donor has now sought parental rights and we are resisting the applications on behalf of the intended parents. We are further seeking parental rights for the non-bio or psychological intended parent who cannot be named on the birth certificate. These test case continues with Judgment in the first case awaited.

Ciaran was instructed in the case of MS A and MS J and MR O and The Attorney General for Northern Ireland and The Secretary of State for Health and The Department of Health 2020. High Court Judgment here


Sinead Marmion

Sinead is a solicitor with expertise in dealing with asylum and immigration cases. She has an LLM in Human Rights Law at Queen’s University Belfast and is fluent in French. 

Sinead has built up an expertise in immigration and asylum work, with specialism in unaccompanied children’s claims. 

Judicial Review

Sinead has specialism in public law challenges in immigration cases through judicial review. She has successfully challenged the Home Office’s decision in respect of a minor asylum-seeker’s age assessment, which is the first of its kind in the jurisdiction. She has a number of judicial review challenges ongoing in respect of the Home Office’s delays in deciding asylum claims within a reasonable time. She is also acting in the first challenge in Northern Ireland in respect of how the rights of asylum seekers interact with the rights enshrined in Article 2 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Sinead is acting in a judicial review against the PPS in the Divisional Court in respect of a failure to prosecute forced labour and slavery of fishermen in a Northern Irish port, which is also the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland. She is instructed in a number of judicial reviews against the Home Office in their failure to recognise her client as victims of trafficking. She has also acted in appeals from the High Court to the Court of Appeal.


She has represented clients at the First tier Tribunal, Upper Tribunal, and Asylum Support Tribunal. This includes successful challenges to refusals of asylum in LGBT cases, political persecution cases and religious persecution cases. She has also had successes in challenging refusals of granting of residence cards by the Home Office on derivative rights of residence cases through the Zambrano route. Sinead has also represented clients who have faced destitution due to unlawful refusals to grant asylum support through representation at the Asylum Support Tribunal. 

Sinead also provides legal support on family and criminal defence cases arising from her immigration work. 


She works closely with Barnardo’s Independent Guardian Service in dealing with cases for unaccompanied minors. Sinead also works with victims of trafficking and modern slavery and works closely with Flourish NI. Sinead is also retained by South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP), which is Northern Ireland’s largest migrant organisation run by veteran civil rights activist, Bernadette McAliskey. Through her work with STEP, Sinead advises on complex cases involving Europeans and their family members applying to the European Settlement Scheme. 

Sinead has experience in a wide range of immigration related matters including; entry clearance, family reunion, spouse and fiancé visas, family visas, European Economic Area (EEA), visit visas, and settlement and naturalisation applications. 

Sinead obtains instruction from clients who are in detention in Larne House Detention Centre, often facing removal and deportation. This can lead to bail applications, asylum claims, judicial review,  urgent injunctions, and unlawful detention claims. 


Sinead has assisted on setting up the first Northern Ireland regional working group for the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA).

She is also Chair of the Law Society’s Immigration Practitioners’ Group. 

Sinead has recently been appointed as Module Coordinator for the Immigration module on the Public Law & Tribunals course in the Institute of Professional Legal Studies in Queen’s University Belfast. 

Sinead is a member of Phoenix Law’s wellbeing committee.

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