Long waits at family courts lead to high emotions

‘It’s not a game,’ judge tells Nenagh couple in dispute over daughter

Sat, Jul 5, 2014, 01:04

“You won’t even know where your child is living,” she texted.

The judge refused to dispense with the need for the father to sign for a passport pending a full hearing of the case. She ordered him to pay the arrears he owed and pointed out that his daughter was “not an object”.

She told the couple they were dealing with a young child who didn’t deserve to be caught up in their difficulties.

“Please just sit back and think of this in terms of her; it’s not a game,” she said.

By mid-afternoon in Drogheda, when a couple, both unrepresented, began bickering and then shouting over each other in a row over €40, Judge Flann Brennan put his head in his hands in exasperation. He probably had another dozen cases to be dealt with.

One solicitor confided that the court sometimes sits until after 10pm to clear the list.

In general, judges deal with the short cases first; minor matters such as solicitors’ applications for short service, adjournments or those with consent.

Couples involved in longer cases spend more time waiting. This can sometimes lead to settlements reached outside the courts and when the cases are finally called they require only the judge’s seal of approval. But when no settlement is reached, particularly when parties are unrepresented, it can lead to a build up of frustration.

Men and women spend the day dwelling on the perceived wrongs done to them and by the time they make it to the courtroom they are often tired, usually emotional and sometimes fit to burst.

And the judge hearing the case must be referee and arbiter and must deal with the parties patiently and in the same measured way that he or she dealt with the cases heard early in the morning when everyone was fresh.

Emotional pressure

Mediation is encouraged by many organisations involved in family law and it works for many couples. But there will always be those for whom only a decision made by a judge will be enough to settle their dispute.

Would it not be possible to make the whole experience a little more civilised for them by setting aside more time for family law and by staggering cases throughout the day? This way men and women already under emotional pressure would not be required to wait for hours, brooding on their circumstances.