A single mother writes: The children’s maintenance has been docked
Covid Stories: The Government is providing Covid-19 payments to those out of work, but not to single mothers
‘From the day the country went into lockdown ... I predicted the letter I would receive from my ex-husband’s solicitor.’ Photograph: Getty Images
Freedom is a loaded word these days. And not something we can ever take for granted. With the raw awareness of domestic abuse experienced by many in lockdown being brought uncomfortably before our eyes, there is another side to this tarnished coin.
Since the schools closed on March 12th in Ireland, I have looked skyward and thanked any God there might be, that I no longer live with an abusive partner. The image rolls over in my mind, knowing that if this had happened at a previous time, when life as I knew it was already hell, lockdown would have tipped me over the edge.
I drop a helpless thought into an invisible pool for those women out there right now, whose reality involves physical and emotional torture behind tightly closed doors.
But that’s not my situation anymore, and it’s not what compels me to write today. I want to voice what I believe are the muted tongues of another multitude; the ones like me who are trying to rebuild their fractured lives after a bad marriage. The women who are striving to bring up children alone, who are often still expected to work full-time, who must have the strength of two parents, and whose one small salvation is their weekly maintenance payment from their children’s father.
If in doubt what child maintenance pays for, it is this: food in the trolley at Aldi; GP bills; to chip away at a mortgage; to pay the ESB bill for the endlessly running dishwasher. The maintenance money is used to replace trainers on ever-growing feet, to pay pharmacy bills, for in lockdown children still get nits, sore throats, and mouth ulcers.
Except now the new reality looms for me and for many others.
From the day the country went into lockdown and I heard the news of imminent job losses, I predicted the letter I would receive from my ex-husband’s solicitor, saying that my ex was not working because of Covid-19 and so with immediate effect the children’s maintenance would be reduced by a certain sum.
With the outlook for the economy looking grim, and those in self-employment unsure when customers will walk back through their doors, the knock-on effects of national lockdown and Covid-19 are crippling. Some women have had all their maintenance taken from them.
What exactly does the lost money mean for a single mother like me? It means I find myself unable to pay a mortgage. I contacted my bank to avail of the three-month break in mortgage payments I’d heard about on the news, but as my ex-husband’s name remains on the mortgage, this is not possible.
It’s not my wish to chastise good men who genuinely cannot pay what they hope for their children, for we have all hit hard times. But I believe the global health emergency has unearthed a certain type of father, one who will ride the back of the economic downturn to wrangle out of supporting his children. It’s a truth echoed on parenting forums by many separated women, who say their ex-partners are using this to dodge their commitments.
The Government is providing Covid-19 payments of €350 a week to save every Tom, Dick and Harry but there is nothing for the single mother not receiving her maintenance payment.
Strength and clarity
The men who publicly tell anyone who will listen how great they are, how they would do anything for their children, the same men who gaslighted their partners for years, are using this as another opportunity to do so. We are not married to them anymore. But are we free?
For me, speaking to a charity for domestic abuse gave me the strength and clarity I needed to fight to get what was right for myself and my children.
However, Covid-19 is a battle I cannot fight. As coronavirus infects our economy as well as her citizens, this is something neither me nor my solicitor seems to be able to conquer.
I am thankful we are all healthy. I am grateful to have my children by my side. I am confused as to why their father would not want to spend more time with such wonders.
The sun has shone here almost every day. A light wind blows, the clothes dry on the line, we chat more, about everything and nothing. We dance, we bicker, we eat, we make videos, we hug, we eat again. We have each other and there is safely in togetherness. There is a love that coronavirus has no business infecting.
But at 4 am, when the world sleeps, I lie wide-eyed, like many other Irish women in my situation, worrying that I cannot afford to care for my children without maintenance. I think of ways to compensate. Will I try to get a night job? How can I be a mother and an absent father? Am I homeschooling them as well as I could? When will the virus go? For viruses come in many forms.
I hope for a brighter day when freedom will mean something else. An entirety of freedom.
Marlyn is a pseudonym