Sunday 20 October 2019

Fathers in child access disputes face 'uphill battle', lawyers warn

Stock photo
Stock photo
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Fathers involved in child access disputes can be unfairly treated in the courts, family law experts have warned.

The Law Society’s child and family law committee said it appears fathers who wish to have extensive access to their children “face an uphill battle” unless they have the agreement of their spouse or the backing of expert reports.

In a submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee, the society said shared parenting on a 50/50 basis was not widespread. It questioned whether the rights of fathers were being protected within the family law system.

“Fathers are being respected, but in relation to children they may not always be fairly treated,” the submission said.

The Oireachtas committee is due to hear from Law Society representatives and other experts on family law issues today. The society’s child and family law committee chairman, Keith Walsh, said the concerns expressed on the rights of fathers in the submission were “not necessarily unanimous” but were those of “experienced practitioners”.

Traditionally, he said, a standard access arrangement would see a father having access to their children every second weekend and possibly also having overnight access on a midweek night as well.

But Mr Walsh said fathers now tended to be more “hands on” than in previous generations and there was a need for the courts to be “more creative” in terms of deciding parent access arrangements.

The matter was just one of several issues of concern identified in the society’s submission.

Pointing to an incident which led to the arrest of a man last December, it criticised “inadequate security” in family law courts and described the environment for litigants and working conditions for court staff, lawyers and judges as “unsafe”.

“The situation is particularly bad in Dublin as regards premises as childcare courts are currently housed in Victorian criminal law courts which are not fit for purpose,” the submission said.

A proposed new family law and children’s court at Hammond Lane in Dublin appears to have “stalled”, it said.

The submission also warned of “unintended consequences” flowing from new regulations regarding expert reports which take into account the view of children in custody and access disputes.

The regulations limit the maximum payment an expert can receive for compiling such reports to between €240 and €325. But lawyers say these fees are nowhere near adequate for the level of work needed to compile a comprehensive and robust report.

In its submission, the society said there was already a shortage of experts, resulting in delays preventing the timely resolution of family law disputes.

It said the fee regulations would result in “a flight of experts” and make “a bad situation much worse”.

Irish Independent

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