From today’s Irish Times
“Court says children should be factor in father’s rent allowance
Last Updated: Friday, October 31, 2014, 00:48
A High Court ruling that the Department of Social Protection must reconsider a decision to grant only single person’s rent allowance to a separated father of four could have significant implications for parents in similar situations. (emphasis added)
In a ruling delivered yesterday, Ms Justice Marie Baker found the department’s decision-making process when assessing the man’s application was flawed.
Its deciding officer applied the wrong legal test by assessing only the father’s accommodation needs without having any regard to the complexity of his family relationships,“the accommodation needs of the children when they are visiting their father” and the “intrinsic interconnectedness” of those needs with those of their father.”
Let me back track a little here, before we get into talking about the implications of this decision for Irish fathers. I wrote about this case back in May 2014. The short version is this. This man and his wife are separated, he has four children. He left the family home to relocate to Dublin in search of work. While he was unemployed he made his application for Rent Supplement, a state subsidy that allows people to pay for accommodation when they unable to do so out of their own resources. He also applied to his local housing authority, and was subsequently assessed and put on what is called the housing list.
Bear with me.
We now have two separate state bodies involved, the local authority deemed this man eligible for housing and assessed his housing need as being that of a parent with four children, which is what he is.
The Department of Social Protection on the other hand refused to acknowledge this and declared him to be a single person and therefore deemed him to be only eligible for a very much reduced rate of Rent Supplement – the rate of Rent Supplement for a single person in Dublin will allow you to rent a shed in somebody’s back garden, if you’re lucky.
While the local housing authority had deemed this man eligible for housing suitable for a parent with four children, the fact is that there is no local authority housing either available or being built, therefore he has no other option but to apply for Rent Supplement in order to provide suitable accommodation for himself and his four children.
Mr. Heeley’s article echoes with almost unconscious contempt at the notion that this man should be accommodated on the State’s dime and referred to his children “visiting him” and this is reflected in the original decision by the Department of Social Protection’s dismissal of this man as a parent, and hinges on one factor and one factor only.
He was and is a father, and as such is deemed to be of less worth – as a parent.
Granted this is also a money saving exercise, after all, we are in the middle of a recession and who cares anyway if fathers who are unable to afford accommodation from their own resources are denied this State subsidy?
Fathers aren’t real parents – are they?
How do I know that Mr. Healy can barely disguise his contempt for this man? Look at the title of the article he wrote – look at how he characterises this man’s relationship to his children. His children “visit him”
In effect he is echoing the same disregard and dismissal for this man’s status as a parent that the Department of Social Protection did when they dismissed his application for Rent Supplement as a parent of four children, and insisted on him being categorised as “single”
“Single” is a particular way of describing someone – as in – not married – yet – the vast majority of “single” parents availing themselves of the One Parent Allowance are female and unmarried – Single – but are without question accepted as parents, and eligible for any and all State supports.
The default narrative of parenting that has been assiduously manufactured and nurtured by feminism, has been embraced by huge numbers of women, and has embedded itself into the cultural consciousness of most western states is that, fathers are irrelevant if not downright suspect, unnecessary to a child’s wellbeing and can be easily brushed aside and dismissed in favour of the real parents – mothers.
Ms Justice Marie Baker has now just thrown a spanner into the works; she has acknowledged the importance of fathers, as parents, to their children:
“Its deciding officer applied the wrong legal test by assessing only the father’s accommodation needs without having any regard to the complexity of his family relationships,“the accommodation needs of the children when they are visiting their father” and the “intrinsic interconnectedness” of those needs with those of their father.” (emphasis added)
But more tellingly she has punctured a concept that has bedevilled and exerted a punitive and malign influence on fathers who have found themselves caught up in family courts – that concept? The “primary carer’ one – where, to put it crudely, possession is nine tenths of the law, and the value of parenting is measured in first, the sex of the parent, and secondly in the hours/days/months that a child is in the “custody” of or if you prefer possession of that “primary carer”:
“She found given the joint custody arrangements the children could not be viewed as living primarily with one parent, or having one “primary” carer, as the department’s deciding officer had found. The needs of the children were more complex, had been assessed by their parents as involving joint custody, and could not be met in one location only, she said.” (emphasis added)
The judgement itself is not available yet, but before fathers rights activists get carried away, one point should be made. This judgement speaks to this man’s legal status, in effect it acknowledges his status as a parent but does not direct the Department of Social Protection to award this man Rent Supplement in any particular amount. The decision is much more subtle. What this decision does is reject the underlying assumptions about who is or isn’t a parent, and what criteria are used to make that decision.
Those criteria are informed by even more underlying cultural artefacts, the most significant one being that fathers are only relevant in a subsidiary and secondary category, and cease to become parents officially unless there is a no “primary carer’ (a mother). What is significant also is that in applying the “best interests of the child” criteria in this way involves an acknowledgement that having their father in their lives is in the best interests of these children.
Rejecting the “primary carer” concept is a significant legal point. It is something to build on, a starting point, if you will, to reframe the parameters through which decisions are reached in custody disputes. Once you reject this notion that there is a primary or superior parent and a secondary or subsidiary parent, and embrace the concept that both parents are equally necessary and equally important in the lives of their children, then the emphasis shifts (hopefully) onto accommodating those children’s needs, rather than being swayed by an emphasis on the needs of one parent over another. Let us hope so.
Perhaps one of the most important aspect of this particular decision, not just for this father, but hopefully for all fathers in a wider context is that:
He is a parent in his own right. Legally. That is what this decision directs a state body to acknowledge, officially.
His solicitor Moya de Paor made these comments:
“This has been very distressing for him and for his children, who have also been denied their right to the care and support of their father,” she said.
“The judgment raises significant issues in relation to fathers’ rights as custodians of their children and, in particular, children’s rights to the care and support of their father.”
So, what could the wider implications be?
Well, try this on for size, the justification used for the payment of “maintenance” or child support from one parent (usually the father) to the other parent (usually the mother) is invariably the concept of the parent receiving that payment as the “primary carer”
If, one is lucky enough to be within a joint custody arrangement, then this judgement quite clearly rejects that concept and levels the playing field, so to speak, ergo – what justification is there now for awarding excessive unvouched payments, not related to specific child care/raising costs, when both parents have been deemed to be of equal status? Parentally speaking, that is.
Just a thought. 🙂
I will post the text of the judgement, if and when it becomes available.
Having said that because this case involves the Department of Social Protection and how it applies its criteria for payments two other issues arise.
In order to qualify for One Parent Family Payment one must:
“have the main care and charge of at least one child who is residing with them
for person applying for One-Parent Family Payment after 1 January 2009, the person applying for One-Parent Family Payment must be a ‘qualified parent’. A ‘qualified parent’ means a widow, a widower, surviving civil partner, a separated spouse, a separated civil partner, an unmarried person, or a person whose spouse/civil partner has been committed in custody to a prison or place of detention for not less than 6 months, who is a parent, step-parent, adoptive parent or legal guardian of at least 1 qualified child, who normally resides with that person. (Section 13 of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008 refers.”
This is the “primary carer” condition that Ms Justice Marie Baker just shot out of the water by rejecting this concept.
The second issue is this:
For a person to qualify as a separated or divorced person or a person whose civil partnership has been dissolved s/he must:
have been living apart from his/her spouse/civil partner for at least 3 months
have made and continue to make appropriate efforts to get maintenance from his/her spouse/civil partner where civil partner is the parent of the child/ren
(See Appendix 1 for what constitutes “efforts”)
See ” Liability to Maintain Family” guideline for more general information.
A person who is unmarried will be required to make efforts to seek maintenance in respect of the child/ren from the other parent of the child/ren. These efforts need not be made at the initial claim stage but continued entitlement to One-Parent Family Payment is conditional on efforts being made to seek maintenance from the other parent of the child/ren. This requirement is applicable to new claims received in the Department on or after 1 May 1997.
(See Appendix 2 for what constitutes “efforts”)
A person who claims One-Parent Family Payment is required to seek maintenance from her/his spouse /civil partner where civil partner is the parent of the child/ren or the other parent of the child. Maintenance payments are assessed as means. Vouched housing costs of up to €95.23 per week (rent or mortgage) may be offset against maintenance payments with half the balance of maintenance being assessed as means in establishing the rate of One-Parent Family Payment due.
This could become a huge problem, and it all hinges around this issue of being the “primary carer” particularly if the parents have been or are still legally married to one another. This judgement has in effect nullified the concept that one parent is the primary parent and ergo is entitled to be paid by the other parent for “taking care of” their children. Put rather simplistically, if both parents are deemed to have equal legal standing – then who claims maintenance from whom?
If you cannot claim maintenance, then you cannot qualify for OPFP, if you, like this man can prove that you are equally parenting your child/ren then you cannot fulfil the “primary carer” condition, and again under the current rules, cannot qualify for OPFP.
Complicated – isn’t it? Yet at the same time incredible simple.
What this judgement has the potential to do is rip to useless shreds the notion that women own their children by default automatically, and men pay.
Having said that, this particular case has no custody issues attaching to it, by all accounts, both the parents here are supportive of one another, but what it has done is expose a weakness in how parenting is seen officially, having relied on that “primary carer” concept to marginalise fathers and make them merely those who pay, or are pursued through the courts for payments to be made to the “primary carer”
Ms Justice Baker has rejected the concept of “primary carer” in a non family law case, concentrating solely on the legal status of this man as an equal parent, and more importantly directed this judgement at a State body – the Department of Social Protection – which insists on one parent pursuing the other parent for “maintenance” and insists on an archaic and discriminatory concept “primary carer” in order that a person can qualify for a particular State payment.But, it also impacts on how other State payments are administered, in particular OPFP.
This is going to be interesting – and already I can hear feminists and “womens rights” advocates gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair out while they try to untangle this and come up with a counter argument that maintains the status quo.