October 30, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
My third and final report on Roisin O’Shea’s study of family courts in Ireland deals with one aspect of child support and the disposition of marital assets by judges.
As to child support, it seems that 100% of child maintenance orders are made on behalf of mothers. Of course there are only 5% of cases in which the father received primary custody and, as I mentioned in my first piece, they did so likely because the mothers were so deficient in one way or another as to be incapable of paying.
100% of maintenance orders were made in favour of the wife; where the husband was the primary carer no application came before the court for maintenance from the liable wife.
Again, Maebh Harding’s study of British courts indicated that, in the great majority of cases in which a father received sole or primary custody, his ex had some issue such as drug or alcohol addiction that meant (a) he could get custody and (b) she couldn’t pay child support. I suspect the same to be true in Ireland. Otherwise, why would no custodial father have even requested such an order?
When child maintenance orders are issued, Irish judges don’t seem to much care about the financial impact on the fathers made to pay.
Of great concern was the common approach of the court to make child maintenance orders where the payor, in 100% of cases the father, was only in receipt of State benefits, the average State benefit observed being € 200 per week. The national insolvency guidelines for 2013 state that subsistence level, i.e. the basic amount a single person requires to live on, as € 237.65 per week. The court, in the main, prioritised the legal and moral obligation on the payor parent to financially provide for their child/children, making orders that effectively brought payor fathers below subsistence level, and took no account of their financial ability to exercise “access” in terms of any transport costs and providing for the child/children during those periods.
In other words, poor fathers are further impoverished by the requirement to pay child support. The amount provided them by the Irish government is already below the poverty line by about € 37.65 per week, but the judges don’t care. They order dads, but not mothers, to further reduce their poverty-level earnings. They also ignore the fact that, when a father has the child in his home, he’s providing support for it. That, plus transportation costs are ignored by judges, further impoverishing already-poor fathers.
And speaking of the home…
The standard presumption operating in almost all courts, was that the status quo of children with the mother in the family home, should be preserved. Where a husband sought the sale of the family home, the response of the court indicated that the request was unreasonable. No alternatives were entertained, such as the possibility that the children could live with the father, or live with both parents, or live in rented accommodation post the division of marital assets.
So, despite the fact that the father may well have paid for the home either solely or mostly himself, when his wife divorces him, she gets the property. Period. She also gets the kids. Period. And she gets child support. What inducement the Irish government offers women to remain married, I don’t know, but it certainly makes divorce an appealing proposition.
The idea that the home may be the couple’s only significant asset appears of no importance to judges. That Dad may have paid for it solely is likewise treated as irrelevant. When Mom divorces him, his equity in the home disappears from his pocket and reappears magically in hers. That the child may actually benefit if Dad could realize his share of the house via its sale also goes unnoticed by judges.
So, fathers’ actual contributions to the ownership of the house the family lives in are entirely ignored by Irish family courts. But remarkably, when it comes to mothers’ contributions, those same judges are happy to simply imagine the most outlandish things.
The Circuit Court deemed the role of ‘homemaker’ and ‘breadwinner’ to be equal contributors to the marital assets, where the ‘homemaker’ was the mother. Their contributions were regarded as equally valuable to the family, in line with Abbot J.’s view in N. V N.  HC, unreported.
I’ve discussed that concept before. It makes no sense. After all, if homemaker and breadwinner contribute equally to the marital assets, explain the following: John is a high-earning doctor and Jane is his stay-at-home wife and mother to their only child, Jenny. John earns half a million dollars a year, the family lives in a posh residence worth $750,000 and Jane does no paid work. By contrast, Allen works as a cab driver and his wife Amanda is his stay-at-home wife and mother of their only child Andy. Allen earns $35,000 per year and the family lives in a very modest house worth $75,000.
Now, Jane and Amanda do about the same amount of work raising a single child. But according to Irish law, Jane’s effort is valued at $375,000 while Amanda’s is valued at one-tenth that. To say the least, that doesn’t make any sense. To arbitrarily value the effort of raising a child solely on the basis of what the other parent earns is absurd. It bears no relation to reality. If stay-at-home parents must have their services valued, it should be on the basis of some sane system of labor valuation and not something as arbitrary as what someone else earns.
But, as we by now have come to expect, it only gets worse for Irish dads.
However, reflecting the Constitutional protection for the role of women in the home , the court did appear to discriminate where the ‘homemaker’ was male, and did not appear to value the contribution of a father who chose to stay at home to care for the children on a full-time basis.
Just in case we hadn’t noticed the blatant anti-father bias of Irish family court judges, they helpfully clarify the matter by valuing her “homemaking” at half or more of his pay while valuing a father’s “homemaking” not at all. Amazing, but true.
Go back and read the three pieces I’ve done on Roisin O’Shea’s fine and informative work. Beyond question, no Irish man should ever marry or have children. The law and the courts fairly scream their warnings.
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