This presentation highlights how in the case of marital breakdown in Ireland parental responsibility falls to the mother and even though the law recognises a clear continuing obligation on fathers, results of this research show that fathers bear relatively little post-divorce responsibility for the care or financial provision of their children.
Underpinned by a feminist approach, this study explored the experiences of fifteen Irish mothers with primary school aged children who have undergone a legal separation and/or divorce; and through a voice centered relational method of analysis (VCRM) identified shared experiences of responsibility. In addition this research examined the needs of this group in order to assess how Irish social policy and service provision respond to these needs.
At the time of separation and divorce fathers maintain decision-making power without a corresponding role in responsibility; mothers continue to assume the primary caretaking role with less security and recognition. Narratives of responsibility are articulated throughout all stages of all of the participants’ separation experiences. Mother’s responsibilities in the period before separation pertain to childcare and domesticity in line with the traditional role of women in the Irish family. Following separation mother’s responsibilities take on added dimensions of dealing with the fall out of the separation, trying to ensure the maintenance of children’s paternal relationships and financial provision in addition their care roles.
Accounts of financial responsibility illustrate the women’s belief that the State has deposited this added weight on them through their non-intervention approach to maintenance enforcement; by placing responsibility for maintenance enforcement firmly at their door; as well as through the stringent conditions attached to receiving State assistance, evident in the new activation of lone parents and demonstrating non-receipt of maintenance, placing the onus of proof on mothers.
The onus of responsibilities was more distressing for those that did not have positive support networks. Structural barriers in terms of the time between physical and legal separation and poor access to financial resources, as well as gendered constraints whereby the division of labour following separation were highly unequal, created a greater need for support from intimate and informal networks.
Accounts pertaining to the period after legalities of separation were finalised and experiences right up to the present day see no change in the mother’s stories of responsibility.