Irish Family Courts’ Treatment of Fathers a Violation of Human Rights

March 26, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

If it’s any consolation to fathers here, it’s worse in Ireland. A new study conducted by Dr. Roisín O’Shea and funded by the Irish Research Council revealed information on Irish Family Court practices that would horrify anyone who cares about fathers or children. Read about it here (The Irish Examiner, 3/19/14). Indeed, Irish family judges’ behavior is so bad that, at least in the case of poor fathers, it likely violates rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

Much of what the study found will be familiar to fathers in the United States, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, etc. But the situation in Ireland is worse.

For example, both the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement and the Urban Institute have found that family courts routinely set child support orders at levels fathers can’t pay. That results in massive child support debt, onto which is tacked interest, in some states as high as 12% per annum.

Irish judges do the same, albeit apparently with less consistency. So, if an Irish dad is out of a job and on welfare, he’s already living at a bare minimal level. But that doesn’t stop Irish judges from handing unemployed fathers child support orders that at least one observer calls “exorbitant.” Worse, doing so drops them well below the minimum living standard the Court of Human Rights requires member states to ensure to residents.

Still worse, the same doesn’t hold true for those rare mothers who don’t have custody of their kids.

A chaotic ‘free-for-all’ in Ireland’s family courts has resulted in many fathers being forced below the poverty line while being denied proper access to their children, according to Eamonn Quinn of the Unmarried and Separated Parents of Ireland.

“The European Court of Human Rights has issued guidelines on what constitutes a minimum standard of living. A separated father on welfare is already at that level, yet an Irish judge will consistently force him to make exorbitant payments to the mother yet rarely, if ever, the other way round where he is the principal carer.

“If the mother has left the family home and is in desertion of the children, she is not made pay the same amount as a man.”

And of course a judge, having issued a gender-biased and apparently illegal child support order need have no fear of being reversed by a higher court. If a man is already living at a minimal subsistence level and then been knocked below even that by the order, what are the chances he can afford counsel to appeal it?

“My understanding is that judges are breaking the law when they force exorbitant payments. A father on state benefits is already living at a minimum standard. Being forced to pay huge maintenance will put him well below that. Judges can make these orders without fear of correction where the only course is to take a case to the High Court which, of course, is impossible for most men in that situation.”

All this is, as I said, a familiar song to fathers everywhere. But here’s where it gets even worse than in other parts of the English-speaking world.

The study, carried out by Roisín O’Shea and funded by the Irish Research Council, shows that the ‘standard access’ for married separated fathers is a few hours once or twice a week along with “a couple of hours” every fortnight.

That’s right. What’s viewed in this country as disgracefully inadequate parenting time for fathers – the usual two weekends per month plus one evening per week – would look like heaven on earth to Irish dads. The idea that catching a glimpse of one’s child for a couple of hours once or twice a week constitutes any form of real parental interaction is ridiculous. It doesn’t get close to meeting the needs of children and abuses perfectly fit and honorable fathers at the same time. Irish family judges, like those everywhere, need to do a little reading. Every order they issue is at odds with the social science on parenting and child well-being.

Every order? You may think I’m overstating the matter, but if you do, think again. This is where the matter becomes still worse.

[The study] also reveals that, during the period reviewed, all spouse and child maintenance orders were made in favour of the wife. It also shows that child maintenance orders are frequently made against fathers living on state benefits, pushing them below the poverty line.

Yes, all orders for alimony and child support were made in favor of wives – all of them. And the study covered a period of four years. That means that a father receiving custody or a child support order is so rare in Ireland as to not bear mentioning.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that custodial mothers’ refusing fathers’ access to children is given a pass by Irish judges.

“If a father is unable to pay maintenance, he will invariably be denied access to the child by the mother and the courts will do nothing about it to combat that kind of emotional and financial blackmail. Many good men are denied access to their child because they don’t have money to pay.

“However, if a father fails to pay maintenance the judge can send him to jail.”

Dr. O’Shea will present her findings to the Justice Minister soon.

In the U.S. this spring has been a time of rather astonishing action in the area of fathers’ rights to children, and children’s rights to their fathers, post-divorce. In this country, a lot is happening. I’ve lost track of the number of states that have either passed shared parenting legislation or have bills pending before their legislative bodies. There is now a bewildering array of shared parenting organizations at the local and state levels, and of course the National Parents Organization that promotes family court reform in multiple states. Here, more than ever before, good things are happening, the momentum is with us. And, to a greater and greater degree, popular sentiment and popular culture are coming around to the view, backed up by social science, that it’s bad for all concerned to keep fathers out of children’s lives.

So it’s difficult to see a country like Ireland in which perfectly fit fathers are treated like criminals by family court judges. They have literally no chance of being their children’s primary parent following divorce and are likely to be bankrupted by child support. The time they’re “awarded” with their children amounts to essentially nothing, and mothers are given carte blanche to deny even that. If child support payments send them below the poverty line, in violation of European law, that’s their problem. If they can’t pay, they go to prison.

It’s all very familiar, and yet it’s so much worse than here. It’s a scandal and a disgrace. What will the Justice Minister do about it? I’ll make a bold prediction: little or nothing.

National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.


#Ireland, #familylaw, #childsupport, #EuropeanCourtofHumanRights, #childcustody, #Dr.RoisinO’Shea

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