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Sinead Ryan: Now Deadbeat Dads are sorted, deal with Mean Mum

This week's closure of a loophole in the law will result in so-called 'Deadbeat Dads' facing jail if they don't pay child maintenance.

I know one of these. He is a mean-spirited, nasty man, intent only on hating his former spouse more than he loves his kids. They do without, so he can make a point. What a man!

I also know of a good, kind dad who loves his kids very much. He pays money every month to his former partner so that his kids can be fed, sent to school and bought small treats from his meagre income. He doesn't however, know if any of the little gifts he sends them ever get passed on. He spent last Christmas day alone, in a park overlooking the house where his children live, trying to see if, perhaps, this once, his ex girlfriend had passed on his presents.

He can't ask them himself, because she won't allow him to see them, so consumed by hatred is she. And, with our wonderful legal system, she has right on her side.

The Constitution gives marriage a special emphasis in our society. An unmarried father has virtually no rights whatsoever.

So, while Minister Ahern busied himself urgently with this new, and welcome amendment, he missed a golden opportunity to ensure that the good dads, whose only crime is not marrying the mother of their children, get to at least see their precious little ones.

For the thousands of single mothers who cry in anguish every time their kids come home from a visit with dad wearing a new pair of Nike trainers, while she struggles to pay the bills, the rush through of legislation will be welcomed. In de-coupling civil from family maintenance debt, Mr Ahern has at least ensured that Deadbeat Dad gets his priorities right.

But what about Mean Mum? She's the one who constantly changes access arrangements because 'something's come up', and who uses the kids as a weapon in the war against her former partner. She tells the children all the nasty things he did to her, and considers it a victory if they no longer beg to see him by the time they're 10.

Kids are clever. If he really is a deadbeat, they'll find that out by themselves, but to deny them the access should be the real crime.

Balanced

What about a law under which good old biology confers the rights? What about making every parent meet their responsibilities by ensuring their children get as balanced an upbringing as possible?

In some towns in Ireland, where the ratio of single mums to married ones is growing ever wider, little boys are in danger of becoming more feminised than might be good for them.

Psychologists agree that having a male influence around boys, in particular, is vital as they grow up.

Denying a child his father's influence, even if he rejects the opportunity, is simply not fair. While the courts take care of the bad ones, organisations like Treoir look out for the good and loving, but currently unequal fathers.

Never mind Deadbeat Dads getting their priorities screwed up -- isn't it the case that our laws can be accused of exactly the same thing?


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