Monday, October 29, 2007

Irish family courts not biassed against Dads, report suggests

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 23rd October:

We hear allegations that the family courts are so biassed towards men that separated and unmarried fathers have no chance of getting justice. That the media are not allowed to cover these cases, even under conditions of strict anonymity, adds fuel to the fire.

That’s a pity: the latest report by Dr Carol Coulter on behalf of the Courts Service paints a picture of judges who, faced with deep parental conflicts, do their best to ensure that fathers and mothers have access to their children. One might argue about the amount of access in individual cases but the idea of a blanket prejudice against fathers is not borne out by Dr Coulter’s report. Here are some examples:

– A mother whose separated husband cut her maintenance from €1,000 to €750 a month because she had reduced her hours of work asked Judge Murrough Connellan to increase the payment to €1,300. She said she had reduced her working hours because one son had behavioural problems. The judge said the point of maintenance was to keep the “parties in the manner to which they had become accustomed” and he told the father to pay €1,000 a month. He also granted an access order for the father to see his sons in the middle of the week and not just at weekends as had previously been the arrangement. The mother had said she considered access to be very important.

– Judge Bridget Reilly granted an hour’s access a week to an unmarried father who had never seen his 10-month-old daughter and who had been jailed for assaulting the mother’s parents. The man had also sought joint guardianship. Judge Reilly told him that though it was a very good idea for a father to be a guardian, as an unmarried father he had no right under the Constitution. The access would take place at the home of the mother’s brother. She also made a maintenance order under which the father would pay €100 a week and she told all parties to return to court so she could check how the arrangement was working.

– A father went to court because he believed his access to his children was being frustrated. This, he said, included at least one occasion on which he was denied access to his children at his sister-in-law’s house even though he was there in accordance with an access order. The mother told the court that the boys did not want to be with their father. Judge Murrough Connellan said neither was a bad parent “but together you have got into a destructive pattern, quarrelling, and this is making it very difficult for your children to grow up.” He recommended they attend mediation and put their own egos aside for the good of the children. He would not change the existing access order and expected the parents to work out together how to manage it.

– Judge Gerard Haughton was critical of a mother for making unsubstantiated allegation in court. This arose when an unmarried father sought joint guardianship of two boys. He said he wanted to be appointed guardian in case anything ever happened to the mother. The mother’s solicitor said the father provided no maintenance as he was on long-term disability. However, the judge dismissed this point as irrelevant. Given that the man was on long-term disability his failure to pay maintenance could not be held against him. Social welfare was “subsistence…you can’t criticise for non-payment out of subsistence.” The mother said one of the boys had been caught selling stolen items he had got from the father and that the school had told her the father “brainwashes” the boy. Judge Haughton said it was “grossly unfair” to raise matters for which no evidence had been produced in court. He granted joint guardianship, saying all he had heard from the mother “is suggestion and innuendo.”

There is much, much more than this in Dr Coulter’s report in her excellent and informative Family Law Matters. The series can be downloaded from the which is the website of the Courts Service.


ministeroftruth said...

Oh do stop please!! Perhaps if you had some personal experience of the family Law system you might be better qualified to comment on Dr. Coulter's trilogy of propoganda but it is painfully obvious that you hav'nt if you think for one second that the examples quoted by Dr. Coulter are an accurate reflection of what really goes on in family law matters.

I suggest you speak to any one of the father's rights groups that have first hand experience of the bias and discrimination that is the reality of irish family law if you want to learn what really goes on.

Anonymous said...

some irish family law judges are unfit for the work they do. some of them have little interst the role that fathers play as parents. our government acknowledges inherent problems in the system generally. a paradoxical comparison between the irish and french systems -lies where french family law judges require 7 years of specialised training. in ireland one can be a conveyancing solicitor turned family law judge in 3 months. this perhaps explains why hundreds if not thousands of 'former' children will ultimately sue the state for loss of consanguinity with their parents.