Proposed Irish Legislation May Actually Make Rights of Single Fathers Harder to Secure

January 19, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

The second-class status of fathers regarding their children is nowhere more apparent than in Ireland where, for many years, various groups have tried and failed to bring a semblance of equality to the law. Here’s an article about the latest efforts (Irish Examiner, 1/17/14). It’s a good article, not only because it spells out in some detail just what unmarried fathers have to do to play the slightest role in their children’s lives, but also because it demonstrates the frank anti-father bias of government officials.

In what must be counted a great irony, the latest push for the rights of unmarried fathers stems from one man’s legal inability to end his child’s life. The man and woman were unmarried. She became pregnant, but died of heart failure shortly after giving birth. The baby too was “catastrophically brain-damaged” at birth and was pronounced by doctors to be unable to survive. Someone needed to authorize the doctors and hospital to discontinue life-support measures for the newborn. Had the father been married to the mother, he could have done so, but since he wasn’t, he couldn’t. Under Irish law, he occupied the exact same role as a random man walking by on the street. The hospital had to go to court to get the OK to allow the child to die.

In Ireland, only fathers who are married to the mothers of their children automatically have parental rights. About one-third of babies are born to unmarried mothers, meaning that a significant number of children come into the world without a legal father. Currently, there are two ways in which an unmarried father can attempt to secure his parental rights.

If the mother is happy to share guardianship, he can get a form called the ‘Statutory Declaration of Father and Mother in Relation to Joint Guardianship of Child/Children’ which is available online or from court offices, and fill it in with his child’s mother in front of a peace commissioner. If the mother objects, the father can apply to his local district court to be made a joint guardian. The mother’s views will be considered but will not dictate the court’s decision.

Notice that, in the first instance, the father’s rights are entirely dependent on the mother’s agreement and, in the second, they’re partially so. To what extent a mother has a de facto veto of a father’s parental rights when he comes before a judge is not stated and likely it’s not known except by family lawyers and judges. I suspect that it’s there that most of the claims of domestic violence and child abuse are heard.

So, as things stand now, for the 33% of children born to unmarried women, fathers’ rights are either entirely in mothers’ hands or very much so. But now there’s a new movement afoot to “grant automatic guardianship rights to unmarried fathers”… except there isn’t. Oh, the organization that’s been fighting for single fathers to be automatically granted parental rights — just like single mothers are — continues its campaign. But the Irish government has no intention of granting that most obvious and modest a step toward equality in family courts.

Treoir, the National Federation of Services for Unmarried Parents and their Children, noted Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s statement last November that he intended legislating to allow automatic guardianship for cohabiting couples but said this could take some time.

Note the different wording — “automatic guardianship rights to unmarried fathers” vs. “automatic guardianship for cohabiting couples.” The Unmarried and Separated Parents of Ireland argues for legislation to actually equalize how unmarried mothers and fathers go about securing their parental rights. But that’s not what’s proposed. What’s proposed is to, once again, place fathers’ rights in mothers’ hands.

Under the proposed legislation — which by the way hasn’t even been drawn up, much less considered by the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament) — only single dads who are cohabiting with the mother of their child when the child is born can claim “automatic” parental rights. So, in the first place, if Mom wants to control his rights, all she has to do is move out, or never allow him to move in, and — presto! — he’s under her thumb, i.e. exactly where Irish law wants him.

What might “cohabitation” mean under the new statute, should it ever come into being? Good question. Must the couple live together one day? A week? A month? Six months? A year? What if they’re just roommates who happen to have a fling one night?

The point is that, if cohabitation becomes a legal requirement for a single father to gain his parental rights, it’s a question to be sorted out by a court. In short, there’s nothing “automatic” about it. Dad still has to go to court to prove cohabitation and Mom can try to prove otherwise. It’s a legal fight before a judge, not unlike the ones that occur now when single fathers appear in court to try to convince a judge to grant them rights to see their kids. As now, single fathers will have to go to court and make the requisite showing in order to become a child’s parent in the eyes of the law. As now, mothers who decide they don’t want the father and child to have a relationship can go to court to try to prevent it. Now they need to prove some sort of unfitness. If the law is changed, they’ll have to rebut Dad’s efforts to prove cohabitation.

Is Irish law poised to abandon the former requirement, i.e. that Dad show he’s fit to be the child’s father? I doubt it, although admittedly I don’t know. Nothing in the many articles written on the subject suggests that, if the new law is passed, mothers will be prohibited from attempting to oust fathers from their children’s lives via the old tried and true methods like claiming abuse.

So it looks like the new law, if it’s passed, will simply add a new layer of litigation a father must go through in order to achieve the same modest end — a relationship with his son or daughter.

That take on the admittedly vague state of the legislation that’s yet to be proposed is strongly supported by this statement by Assistant Chief Executive Margot Doherty:

“Change is coming, although we have yet to see any draft legislation and it won’t suit everyone as parents will have to prove they have been living together and it won’t change the situation for parents living apart. There is an argument for automatic rights for all fathers on the birth of a baby but there are issues around domestic violence, incest and rape. It’s a difficult issue to make one simple rule for.”

The statement raises several issues. First, Doherty pretends, and doubtless hopes we will too, that the draft legislation has something to do with “parents.” It doesn’t. It has to do with single fathers and only them. The implication of her statement is that, in some way, mothers as well as fathers might have to “prove they have been living together.” That of course is nonsense. Mothers will have to do no such thing. If Mom and Dad agree on Dad’s rights, all they need to do is sign the aforementioned Statutory Declaration and the thing is accomplished. Only fathers will ever want or need to “prove that they have been living together.” The Assistant Chief Executive is misleading us.

Worse, she claims that the many arguments (which she refers to as “an argument”) in favor of children having access to their fathers are in some way answered by “issues around domestic violence, incest and rape.” It’s a typical dodge by the anti-dad crowd, and for them it’s a good one because it avoids two sticky issues they’d rather avoid. The first is that mothers commit as much domestic violence as do fathers as countless datasets accumulated over almost 40 years make clear. And, at least in the United States, they commit twice the abuse and neglect of children that fathers do, according to yearly data accumulated by the Administration for Children and Families. I’ll guess the situation isn’t much different in Ireland.

But regardless of the precise figures in the Emerald Isle, the notion, advanced by Doherty is that only fathers are dangerous to their intimated partners and children and therefore only fathers must have parental rights that are contingent on their disproving allegations by mothers. Mothers? According to Doherty there are no “issues around domestic violence incest and rape.” Of course there are, but allowing them into the debate about parental rights and why fathers are second-class citizens in their own families falls far outside the accepted parameters of that debate.

Finally, Doherty’s claim that “it’s a difficult issue to make one simple rule for,” would be laughable except it’s one with which fathers’ rights supporters will have to deal. Doherty knows as well as the rest of us that there is indeed “one simple rule” for unmarried women regarding rights to their children — they have them by virtue of their biological connection to their children. Period.

Why not the same rule for unmarried fathers? Doherty won’t say, but the answer is clear — Ireland will continue its frank discrimination against unmarried fathers and, in the process, deprive children of a much-needed resource in their upbringing and welfare.  Ireland and its gender warriors are happy with the subservient status of fathers and, if thousands of children suffer the consequences of their gender ideology, well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, don’t you know.

Having shoved men to the back of the family bus like every other English-speaking country, the commentariat will continue to wonder, in tones ranging from the mystified to the indignant, why it is that fathers don’t “step up to the plate,” why so few children have fathers taking an active part in their lives, and why single mothers are so likely to endure straitened financial circumstances.

There’s an answer to all those questions — public policy in thrall to gender ideologues. Fatherlessness is one of the worst societal problems we face. We face it year after year in large part because public laws, policies and discourse doggedly avoid the obvious — that children do better with fathers in their lives and fathers almost invariably desire to be there. We avoid that simple truth in order to better demonize men and fathers. We do so to our eternal shame.

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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