Question: I am a single mother with one child who is 8 months old. I do not have a good relationship with the father of the child. He is not giving me any maintenance and refuses to do so. What can i do here?

Answer: In situations, like your own, where the father to your child refuses to pay maintenance for his child, you can apply to the District Court for a Maintenance Order against him. You can represent yourself in the District Court or in the alternative, you can seek to see if you are eligible for Legal Aid by contacting the Legal Aid Board in Cork City and filling up an Application Form. If they deem that you qualify as an Applicant for Legal Aid, you pay them the sum of €50 and thereafter, they put the legal framework in place for the matter to proceed.

This means, that the Legal Aid Board can process the Application for you in the District Court by getting the paperwork in order and then it is a matter for you appearing with your Legal Representation before the local District Court in your area. All Family Law matters which include Applications for Maintenance are heard in private in the Court.

Notice of your proposed Application and the date of the Court hearing is served on the father of the child and usually, the father does turn up in the Court for the hearing. At the Court hearing, the Judge decides based on the means of the father as to what the appropriate amount of maintenance should be. There is a legal requirement on both the mother and the father to fill out a Statement of Means before the Court case, outlining what they are earning and what their weekly expenditure is. This Statement of Means is of assistance to the Judge in determining the amount of payment the father should make to the child. A District Court Judge has power only to make an Order to the maximum of €150 per child.

If the father chooses to ignore the Court Summons, the Judge can make an Order for Maintenance against him. This means, that the Judge decides based on the facts presented to him, how much per week, the father should pay in maintenance to the mother of the child and if the father does not comply with that Order of the Court, it is a criminal offence. Obviously in a situation, where the father does not turn up, evidence would be given by the mother to the Court, of the father’s occupation so that the Judge will be in a position to assess the weekly amount the father should pay.

Finally the ideal situation, would be for the parties to agree upon maintenance themselves. This would mean sitting down and making out the income and the costs of both the mother and the father per week and then coming to an arrangement which satisfies both parties. However, if the parties cannot agree with each other, there is no other option but to go to the District Court.

The Court recognises, that there is a legal obligation on fathers to maintain their children in accordance with their means. The maintenance can be paid on a weekly or a fortnightly or monthly basis depending on what suits the parties. There is no legal obligation on the father of the child to pay maintenance to the mother of the child where the parties are not married. Therefore, your Application for Maintenance will be for the benefit of your child and not for your benefit. In other words, the maintenance is for the child. Paying maintenance does not in itself, give a father an automatic right to access to his child or Guardianship Rights but, it is likely, that access would be granted to a father, where he so seeks it before a Court, in circumstances, whereby he wants to nurture a relationship with his child.