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A Week in the Family Court: Judge warns parents that he wants no 'point scoring'

TheJournal.ie spent a week observing cases in the Family Court. Here’s a selection of some of the common cases linked to relationship breakdowns.

Updated 10.55pm

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This article is part of a series on the Family Court which can be viewed here>>

MAINTENANCE, ACCESS and custody are described as the “bread and butter” of the family court. The breakdown of a relationship, especially where children are involved, can result in couples being subject to court orders where there are disagreements.

TheJournal.ie spent a week observing cases in the Family Court. Here’s a selection of some of the common cases linked to relationship breakdowns.

Father makes application to reduce maintenance payment to €40 per week

A man and woman appeared before a judge in relation to amending a maintenance order. The couple have a son but are now separated.

The father pays €50 per week in maintenance but was seeking to have it reduced to €40 as he has lost his job since the order was put in place.

The judge asked to see a breakdown of the man’s finances , which the father presented.

The judge read out some of what was outlined, such as rent and bills, including a subscription to a TV channel service. There was also a loan repayment of €10 per week listed.

The judge asked the man why he was seeking to reduce the maintenance payment towards his child.

He said that he could no longer afford the €50 week and that things were “very tight”. He said that he would like to have it amended to €40 per week.

The judge asked the father what the loan was for. “I took out a €500 loan from the Credit Union to pay for a holiday abroad,”explained the father, who said that he has to make a €10 repayment each week to pay it off.

The judge also questioned his need for a TV channel service if the man had said that things were tight.

The judge refused to amend the maintenance order, stating that it was a matter of priorities. He said the father should re-examine his income and expenditure and told him he should not be taking out loans to go on holidays if it will jeopardise the payments he must make for his son.

Mother who has not seen father of her children for 19 years applies for passport

A common case to appear before judges is that of mothers looking to get passports for their children.

In order to get a passport for a child, both the mother and father must sign the form. However, if the father is absent, then a problem arises.

One mother appeared before the judge to say that she had not seen her husband for 19 years, yet her daughter needed a passport for a college grant.

“You have had no contact over that period, at all?” asked the judge.

“I left him because of domestic violence, judge,” said the woman. The mother explained that her daughter was attending college, the first in the family, and she needed a passport for this reason.

The judge signed the order to leave of consent of the father’s signature, meaning that the judge’s signature can stand in for the absence of the father’s consent.

Judge warns parents that he wants no ‘point scoring’

Parents of a child with a disability appeared before a family court judge both with counter claims that each party were in breach of their access agreement.

The judge was told that the child had special needs and that an access agreement was put in place some weeks prior to ease the child into staying at the home of both parents.

The mother is the primary carer of the child, but the court order allowed for weekend access visits to the father.

The solicitor representing the mother told the judge that it had been agreed that for a period of six weeks the child was to stay at the mother’s home on a Saturday night and that the father would come to the home and would assist in putting the child to bed, so as to get the child used to both parents.

After six weeks, the solicitor said that the there was to be a transition period by which the mother would bring the child to the father’s home and the mother would assist the father in putting the child to bed. The solicitor also said that it was understood that the mother would stay in her ex-partner’s home each Saturday night for a period of two weeks.

The mother’s solicitor said that the father had breached the order as on the first occasion that the father was to take the child, he refused to, adding that following that the mother had tried to rearrange, but that the father refused to let her stay in his home overnight, maintaining that it was not part of the agreement.

The father disputed the claim that he had breached the order, stating that the first Saturday he was to have his child stay in his home he was unwell and informed the mother that he could not have the child to stay. He told the judge that the mother had tried to rearrange, but said that she would not bring the child to his home unless she was allowed stay the night, adding “I said that wasn’t on and that it was not part of the agreement”.

He said that there was no room for her to stay anyway as there is only one bed. The mother claimed that as she understood it, she was to stay overnight, as the distance she had to travel from her home to the father’s was considerable and it would be costly for her to get the bus, train or taxi back home after putting her son to bed.

The judge said he provided a clear plan to be put in place and questioned what had gone wrong on this occasion. He told the mother’s legal team that “in no way” did he include in the order that the mother was to stay overnight, stating: “That is ludicrous. I would never order that.”

The solicitor conceded that that was her understanding of the previous order.

The judge said he would “press the restart button” and told both parties to begin again, with the father attending the mother’s home for a period of six weeks, and then transitioning for two weeks with the mother going to the father’s home, with the idea that after that the child would be comfortable to stay at the father’s home alone.

The father objected, “I have already done this, it is not my fault that she was preventing me from seeing my child. I followed the order.” The mother interjected and asked what she was to do if her child refused to go the father’s.

The judge told the parents that he would in no way tolerate “point scoring” and that if he thought that the child’s best interests were not the main priority of the parents in this situation and if the order was breached further by any party he would hold them in contempt. He warned both solicitors acting on behalf of the parents to take heed of his warning, stating that idea of the order is in the best interests of the child.

‘A Week in the Family Courts’ series will be running all this week on TheJournal.ie. Read the cases from the courts here>>>

Tomorrow we will bring you recommendations on how the Family Courts can be improved. 

First published 6.30am

Read: For full coverage of our ‘A Week in the Family Court’ click here>>>

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