Northern Ireland changed their child and custody laws in 2002 to reflect the importance a father – married or not – plays in his children’s lives. Now other Irish dads say they’ve waited long enough. While the 2015 Children and Family Relationships Act postured at giving single dads rights in certain situations, those protections haven’t played out in court. The Oireachtas, Ireland’s version of Congress, has a Committee on Justice and Equality that meets this week to consider how to effectively change family law.
Equal Rights and Access
As it is now, mothers are the only single parents in Ireland who truly have a legal claim to children when they’re born. Earlier changes in law granted single fathers guardianship rights if they’d cohabitated with their partner for a length of time. Once in court, unfortunately, traditional bias sets in. Judges show repeatedly they will believe and side with single moms, discount father’s evidence and testimony, and place children in situations where they’re robbed of adequate time with both of their parents.
Single fathers in Ireland want to change that, and not so they can commit nefarious deeds against their partners and still wind up with a way to control them. Advocates for victims of domestic violence often paint the worst possible portrayal of fathers possible. “If abuse isn’t physical…” they say, or “If the mother has never called the police…” well, judges won’t believe the women’s accusations. They insist allowing single dads automatic rights to their children is extremely dangerous.
A very small number of families fall under these circumstances, but there are resources available for mothers in abusive relationships. It’s their responsibility to use them in order to keep their children safe. It is not the burden of all single men or all children of unmarried parents to sacrifice just in case abused women can’t find a way to do that.
Around the world, abused moms are often charged when their boyfriend’s injure or kill their children. Proof that whether they are scared or not, they have a legal obligation to protect their kids from harm. Unable to do that – due to abuse, drugs, mental illness or any other legitimate reason – still results in a mother who is unfit to raise her child. Not only that, but the latest clinical studies show 46 to 55 percent of abused women go on to abuse their children.
If we based guardianship laws on potential abuse scenarios, no one would have custody of their own children!
Laws should leave ample room for courts to consider any and all risks to a child. They should also establish a framework for single fathers to have automatic guardianship rights and regular access so that kids always have the option of spending time with both parents.
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