Mark Keenan: Spare a thought this Father’s Day for the separated dads trapped in a soul-destroying housing limbo
A joke I’ve heard more than once from separated dads goes as follows: If two gay men get divorced in Ireland, who gets the house? Neither — the court adjourns to try and find a woman.
Bitter? Yes. Sexist? Maybe. But there is undoubtedly some genuine sentiment behind this sorry gag.
We hear plenty about the ‘deadbeat’ dads who run from their financial responsibilities to their children.
We hear a lot less about the thousands of separated Irish fathers who do their level best for their kids, despite a system which leaves them dead-ended in life, especially when it comes to housing.
As a separated dad of many years, I am very lucky to own my own house. As far as I can ascertain, this is unusual in Ireland. Ask any separated dad renting a room in a market with the highest prices in memory and climbing.
All parties realise that courts set out to achieve the best for the children. But rolling with the separated dad’s part of this deal is becoming tougher each
Once children are involved, you don’t have to be a married man to lose your home, even if you owned it before you ever met your estranged partner.
Irish courts tend to award the home to the mother (unless she has other property) until the youngest child has completed third level education. Then it is sold and the proceeds divided, usually equally.
But with 35-year mortgages typical, just half of that home is likely to be paid up by the time it comes to divvying up.
Because the value of half of half an average home is nowhere near enough to buy the smallest property, it means there’s a big housing problem coming down the tracks for Ireland’s 220,000 separated and divorced people.
Recently, I was contacted by Alex, a former businessman who found himself staring into the abyss after a bitter separation. He wrote to me because he is aggrieved that the new shared equity scheme under preparation does not take many separated people into account. “For my part I would be disqualified as I am joint owner of a property, but my ex wife has exclusive right of residence,” he says.
His three children wanted to live with Alex who then had to fight hard for 50pc access (still rare, but more common than it was). This was despite the children expressing their preference to the court.
In Ireland, there is no proper enforcement of access orders, so mothers can defy the court and withhold children without real penalties being levied. It’s something former Justice Minister Alan Shatter, also a leading family lawyer, has repeatedly highlighted.
Conversely, courts come down hard on separated dads who attempt to withhold maintenance money as a means of trying to secure such withheld access as decreed by that very same court. Level playing it ain’t.
Alex’s ex was listed as a director of his firm, though she played no role. So it was dissolved. Now he is unemployed, but still obliged to find money to pay the mortgage on the house he can’t live in.
He’s also facing eviction because he can’t afford a rent increase which is on the way. He already had to borrow to pay his first year’s rent. In Ireland, family court judges won’t take debts into account when deciding maintenance payments.
“At first I couldn’t get HAP,” says Alex. “In order to qualify, I needed to get onto the housing lists, even though I had zero chance of getting a house. Again because I am already a part shareholder in a house I can’t live in.
“In order to get a social house a separated man must first divest himself of his share in the family home and he can’t profit from it. So he has to give all of his share away to his ex to qualify for public housing. It’s crazy.
“We will both be in our 60s when our youngest finishes college,” he continues. “The house still won’t be paid down and that means neither of us will be able to buy homes with the proceeds. I am locked in a limbo with no viable future in sight.”
Alex’s story reminded me of the time I rented out a room in my own house. I had three separated dads looking to rent that room. The sticking point for me was having their children stay over at the weekend.
Much as I wished I could oblige, my own children were coming then and it just wouldn’t have been practical. They told me that most room renters won’t have children stay over.
The alternative for them is to rent an entire house (running at over €2,200 per month plus in Dublin), take the kids to their grandparents, or opt for the stereotypical long rainy day at McDonalds when the sun isn’t shining.
Those who can manage a room in a shared house will pay €800 per month in Dublin. That’s on top of paying the big share of the mortgage on the family home (say another €500 plus) and maintenance for ex partners, and their children (€1,000 is not uncommon). This means lots of these dads need to make €2,300 before even getting out of bed. That’s before food, car, petrol, heating and all the rest. Never mind money for a day out with their kids.
For average earners, these figures are quite simply impossible. And State assists like children’s allowance don’t apply. Even with 50pc custody of the children, mums get the full amount.
While separated women also have their horror stories, separation laws and trends in Ireland mean it’s mostly the dads who lose their home and are again at risk of homelessness as rents move up.
Perhaps the worst story I heard came from Don, also a father of three.
The self-employed sole earner in the family, he had worked six days a week to pay for the larger home his wife had pressurised for. A year after they moved in, she told him their relationship wasn’t working because he was never home. The court decided Don should move out.
Between paying the mortgage, maintenance for his ex and children, and renting a bedsit, he soon found he couldn’t manage it all. Meantime, Don’s ex found a new man and she moved him into their house.
Don told his ex he would have to go on the dole in order to be housed. So she made a deal. Last time I heard about Don, he was renting the box room back home, cooking meals for all (including his wife’s new partner) and then going out to work 10 hour days to pay for it all.
So this Father’s Day, here’s to Alex, Don and all the loving, hard working dads, whose lives Ireland has dead ended.
Original article by Mark Keenan on independent.ie
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