Mother challenges ruling to cut back maintenance

Wed, Oct 17, 2012, 01:00

A MOTHER of one has challenged a District Court judge’s decision to reduce the maintenance which her former husband must pay to her from €225 to €30 a week.

Last July, after the woman sought an order compelling her former husband to pay arrears of maintenance, Judge Hugh O’Donnell agreed to her former husband’s application to vary her maintenance payment and suspended any payment of arrears.

The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, is seeking to overturn those orders in judicial review proceedings in the High Court. She claims Judge O’Donnell erred in law and acted outside of his jurisdiction and in breach of fair procedures.

The woman, who has serious health difficulties, also alleges the reduction of the maintenance payment and suspension of arrears due has caused her serious financial hardship.

The case is against the District judge while the woman’s former husband is a notice party.

Leave to bring the challenge was granted, on an ex-parte basis (one side only represented), by Mr Justice Michael Peart who returned the matter to later this year.

Conor Power, for the woman, said she and her former husband had obtained a decree of divorce from the Circuit Family Court some years ago. The husband, under a periodic payment order, was directed to pay €150 per week maintenance to his ex-wife and €75 per week for their child but had failed to comply with the periodic maintenance payments and fell into arrears.

Last March the former husband asked the District Court to vary the maintenance payments order but the judge hearing the case refused the application on the grounds the court lacked the jurisdiction to hear it, counsel said.

When that application came before the Circuit Court, the matter was struck out due to the former husband’s non-appearance, he added.

Counsel said his client had sought an enforcement order in respect of the arrears but when that came before Judge O’Donnell at the District Court last July, her former husband renewed his application to vary the payments order.

Counsel said his client was taken by surprise and was not legally represented, as her solicitor was unable to attend court that day. The judge had allowed variation of the maintenance order down to €30 in respect of their child and suspended the arrears of maintenance due from the previous February.

Counsel argued Judge O’Donnell erred in his decision and lacked the jurisdiction to make the disputed orders. No proper application to vary the payment orders was made by the ex-husband and the woman had not been put on notice that such an application was to be made, he argued.