Case of row over a skip heard in Family Court

Man granted sole custody of son and order to pay maintenance to his wife discharged


A man seeking custody of his teenage son so they could continue living in their council home, an amicable separation after 31 years of marriage and a row over a house and a skip were among the cases at the Family Circuit Court in Dublin yesterday.

The family courts were opened up to media for the first time this week after Minister for Justice Alan Shatter commenced legislation to lift strict privacy rules. Journalists may report on cases unless a judge rules otherwise, but cannot report identities.

In one case before Judge Sarah Berkeley yesterday, a man sought full custody of his youngest son after his wife, from whom he was separated, returned to her home country and the local authority sought to take their home, which was rented in the wife’s name.

Counsel for the man said his wife took their teenage son with her to her home country after a judicial separation but then sent him back to Ireland. The boy came back to live in the former family home with his adult brother. The father then moved back in to look after his son, but the council refused to give him the tenancy.

He said his client was told they could only transfer tenancy on foot of a court order or if the father got sole custody.

Sole custody
After examining correspondence from the mother, Judge Berkeley said the mother seemed agreeable that the house would be signed over. She made an order granting the man sole custody and discharging the order to pay maintenance to his wife.

In another case, a woman sought an extension of time to leave the family home. She had agreed to vacate it with her daughter, a college student, as part of a divorce settlement. The house was to be sold, but she had discovered that her ex-husband and his new wife were instead going to move back into it. She wanted more time to move because she was having difficulty getting rent allowance and her daughter was facing college exams. The woman was not contributing to the mortgage.

‘Sale prevented’
Her ex-husband told the judge the mortgage on the home was in arrears and he couldn’t afford to pay it and rent. He complained his ex-wife had prevented the sale of the house. He had even paid for a skip, he said, but it had not been used and he wanted his money back. He said he was in serious financial difficulty.

“Three holidays in the past 12 months!” his ex-wife interjected. “My parents paid for them,” he responded.

The judge suggested it would be best if their daughter remain in the home with her mother until after her exams. She said she believed the woman, who was unemployed, should be entitled to rent allowance and this could be put toward the mortgage. She agreed the court registrar would write to the bank and the woman’s social welfare officer and request their co-operation. “They don’t have to comply, but they are usually very helpful,” the judge said. She made no ruling on the skip.

Also in court yesterday, the judge congratulated a a middle-aged couple who were 31 years married and had reached an amicable agreement to separate. The family home had been sold and the proceeds divided almost equally, there was agreement that the husband’s pension would be split 50/50 and an assurance policy payout would also be equally divided.

“No prospect of a reconciliation?” the judge asked the wife.

She shook her head and smiled. The case was over in less than 10 minutes.