Proposed Change to Irish Law Offers Little to Single Dads

November 6, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

They just can’t seem to get it right. When it comes to simply doing the right thing, i.e. equalizing the parental rights of mothers and fathers, no one can manage to pass – or even propose – such a law. In England we’ve seen the Cameron/Clegg government go from promising dramatic improvements in fathers’ rights to actually producing a bill that will make no difference whatsoever in the time children of divorce get to spend with their dads.

Now it’s Ireland’s turn to trumpet its good intentions toward fathers while leaving a loophole in the proposed legislation that a drunk could drive an 18-wheeler through. Ireland, like so many other countries, has long grappled incompetently with the notion of fathers actually having the power to force courts to recognize their value to children. And, like so many other countries, Ireland has denied them that right.

So, as this article tells us, Ireland is once again poised to take the bit in its teeth and fearlessly pretend to do something for fathers while actually doing very little (Irish Independent, 11/5/13). It seems that the Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter is in the process of preparing legislation that, if passed, would give unmarried fathers rights to their children without going to court to do so.

As it stands now, if a man and woman aren’t married and she has a child fathered by him, she has all parental rights and he has none.

Men be warned, unless you get married, you will have no legal rights to your children. If you want to see them but your ex disagrees, you’ll have to go to court.

In accordance with Irish law, unmarried fathers currently have no automatic legal rights to their children. Even if the father’s name is on the birth certificate, he has no legal rights. A name on a birth cert does not mean that a father will have guardianship of his child…

Not having guardianship means that the father is not involved in the decision-making process of his child’s life. Without guardianship, the father doesn’t have the right to seek medial (sic) treatment for his child or query the educational or religious upbringing of his own child.

Nor can he apply for a passport for his child or decide where he will live. Many are the broken-hearted fathers who have had to wave their children off when the mothers decided to move abroad.

And if that’s not bad enough, here’s what one of the commenters to the article adds.

I know of cases where fathers were told to sit at the back of the church while their kids were getting communion/confirmation.


So, unlike an unmarried mother, an unmarried father has to jump through hoops to get even the most minimal of parental rights. Essentially, he’s got to go to court and prove that he’s biologically the father and of course, fit to play the part. Once he’s managed that, he’s earned the right to be told by the court that he can see his kids four days a month and pay an inordinate amount to his ex – who may have done everything she could to deny him any contact with his child at all – in child support.

Unmarried fathers still have to go to court to apply for guardianship. For fathers who want to be involved it’s their only choice.

Well, not quite. If the mother consents, he can file a form and get his rights, but of course in that event, his parental rights are entirely in her hands. What if she doesn’t tell him about the child or that it’s another man’s? He’s out of luck. What if she moves to a different city to keep the child from him? He’s out of luck. What if he doesn’t have the money to pursue his legal options. He’s out of luck. She can do anything with the child she wants and he’s got as much power to intervene, as much authority as his dead grandfather.

So what does the Justice Minister intend to do about that blatantly sexist state of Irish Law?

So there is no doubt that fathers across the land will be celebrating the news that Justice Minister Alan Shatter is preparing legislation that will give unmarried fathers automatic guardianship of the child if they have lived with the mother for a year before the birth.

This is good news for fathers who want to be involved in their child’s life. Until now, the mother has held all the cards in this aspect of the law. She is automatically the parental guardian and therefore the decision maker.

Strangely, the article’s writer, Sinead Moriarty, actually seems to think such a law would benefit single dads. It won’t, at least not much and maybe not at all. After all, the condition placed on a single father’s parental rights is rather a massive one. If passed, the law will require the father to live with the mother for an entire year prior to the child’s birth. That is, it places his parental rights squarely in her hands. Where have we heard that before?

Does she want him to live with her? If not, he has no parental rights. Does she get angry and throw him out a week short of a year of living together? He has no parental rights.

The entire scheme is highly reminiscent of another way he can gain parental rights – marry the mother. Somehow the people who pass these laws fail to notice a fact that would be clear to a small child – that it takes two to marry and it takes two to live together. The father can do neither of those things by himself, so he needs the mother’s consent. If she doesn’t, well, you know what the result is; he’s a non-person in his child’s life.

Meanwhile, Moriarty manages to miss an impossibly obvious conclusion from facts she recites.

We can understand why unmarried fathers are feeling frustrated. But when we look at the statistics showing that one in four families with children in Ireland is now a one-parent family and only 13.5pc of one-parent families are headed by a father, it’s no wonder that mothers are still considered the primary carers.

What most people would notice is that maybe, just maybe, if Irish laws weren’t so dead-set on keeping fathers away from their children, those statistics would improve. Mothers would be saddled with less childcare and fathers would have more contact with their kids, in short, a win for the kids, the mothers and the fathers. Not bad, but in an act of incomprehensible blindness, Moriarty fails to notice the obvious.

For some reason, both courts and legislative bodies are bound and determined that any meager parental rights a father may have must be conditioned on the approval of the mother. Sometimes, as in the case of current Irish family law and Shatter’s proposed bill, that’s overt. Other times, the power given to mothers isn’t stated as such, but mothers manage to figure it out. So, for example, single mothers flock to the State of Utah to place their children for adoption because they know (or are told by Utah adoption attorneys) the ease with which a mother can cut a father out of his child’s life. Nowhere in the law does it state that denial of a father’s visitation rights is legally acceptable, but mothers do it every day and are rarely punished by courts for doing so.

There’s a pattern to the laws and judicial practices of family court judges – the almost complete control of the rights of single fathers by single mothers. Indeed, reading family law cases leaves little doubt about the matter. As but one example, the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case construing the very first putative father registry in the nation makes the matter all too clear. In the case, Lehr v. Robertson, the child’s father lived with and supported the mother during her pregnancy, but once the child was born, she fled. She moved from town to town and eventually out of state. He tried constantly to locate her including hiring a private investigator to do so. He met with limited success, but the few times he managed to run her to ground, he offered to set up a trust fund for the child and to be her father. All his efforts were spurned by the mother. Each time he would locate her, she would move again to thwart him. This went on for a period of about three years, at which point she married another man.

Despite his dogged determination to be a father to his daughter, the Court affirmed the termination of his parental rights, describing his relationship with the girl as “merely biological.” And so it was, but who was the person who had accomplished that feat of estrangement? It was the mother, and the Court expressly endorsed her behavior by terminating his parental rights. His rights were in her hands and she elected to deny them to him. Such is the world of family law that fathers face every day.

Despite Sinead Moriarty’s enthusiasm for Minister Shatter’s brainchild, it’ll change little or nothing about fathers’ rights in Irish courts.

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.


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