The Maintenance Game

I am divorced, I have a court order for maintenance but my ex husband hasn’t paid any since 20th March 2018 My daughter recently started college in Trinity College Dublin and unless I get the maintenance sorted she will have to drop out of college, I don’t know what to do, my ex lives in Texas and is working as a plastic surgeon, has his own private practice and is also remarried to a plastic surgeon. I just don’t know what to do or where to go. I have qualified for free legal aid but the waiting time to see a solicitor is six months. I would appreciate any help or advice my daughter is a wonderful person and I have reared her on my own since she was six, I just don’t want to fail her now, especially when she has succeeded in getting a place on her chosen course, I cannot let my ex’s refusal to pay her legal entitlement destroy her life and career. Please help me if you can, I am really desperate. Your sincerely,



Unfortunately, this is a very common and long standing issue, particularly, by it's nature, for women. This is changing a little bit as we renegotiate the terms of parenting in the modern day but the burden of care and the fight what's right always seems to fall on the victim within the system. Hatred and anger are easier feelings to deal with than sorrow and pain. As survivalists, at least we feel we're fighting and therefore standing up for ourselves. Neither option is particularly thrilling, instead focus on a plan, get practical and, if even temporarily, try to leave the hurt out of the solution.

We're reached out to a Free legal Aid lawyer on your behalf and spoken to the wonderful Women's Aid, who's doors are open to you right now. They have shared practical advice from a legal and support point of view.

What you've gone through is really tough and show's your fortitude and commitment to both yourself and your daughters futures. The money was being paid up until relatively recently which means you may well get it. However, it's always worth legislating for the worst case scenario. Get the money coming in to the household. You don't say if your daughter works to contribute to her fees, but we think that is a priority at this point. Waitressing by night, studying by day was always a norm, and still is for many. Look for somewhere busy with a good tipping system, that is, where the staff actually get the tips, as that's where the value can be. Also, if you're not working, get yourself to Dress for Success to start building your own earning power by preparing yourself for Success at interview.

SUSI is the national agency that handles student grants. Their application process closed on November 1st but they have the following line on their site for late applications. '[If] You experienced extenuating circumstances that adversely affected you and your ability to make an application prior to the online closing date of 1st November 2019.'

If that fails, you could talk to your bank or credit union. By going to college, your daughter is making an investment in herself and hoping your future. Investigate every opportunity as this is a cash flow issue at this point.

The important thing right now is that you create alternative solutions within your control, as your ex-husband most certainly does not fall within that category.


Dear CM,

It sounds like you have done an excellent job raising your daughter as a lone parent and you must be very proud that she has started Trinity College.  I wish you both the very best. 

Women’s Aid runs the 24hr National Freephone Helpline for women affected by domestic violence and the withholding or non-payment of maintenance is an issue that callers disclosed very regularly.  This is a part of financial abuse and can be used to manipulate, harm and/or control women.  Women and children can be left in dire circumstances and often face poverty, disadvantage and in some cases, homelessness.

I am sorry to hear what you are going through.  You have described a very difficult situation and one that is impacting on you greatly and we understand your concerns about the possibility of your daughter’s education being interrupted.  Your ex-partner is in breach of a court order and while the situation is made tougher by the fact that he is not living in Ireland it is worth exploring your options.  His obligation is binding and there are ways to recover maintenance when a person is living in another country. 

You do not have to go through this alone. There are people who can help. A good place to start is to call our national helpline (1800341900).  We are there 24 hours a day, every day and offer a listening ear and practical information.  The Helpline worker won’t press you or ask any details, it is a safe and confidential place to talk. 

We also run a free drop in service at Dolphin House every day from 9.30-1.30pm. You can call in and speak with our support worker.  She can provide some helpful information as well as linking you in with other organisations who can help.  

Other organisations who can help include the Free Legal Aid Centre (18903502350) and MABS 0761 07 2000 and perhaps the Student Welfare at the Students’ Union. 

It sounds like you have gone through difficult circumstances in the past so remember to draw on that strength to get through this latest challenge.

Take care.

FREE LEGAL AID LAWYER (Anonymous due to working for the state)

There is no simple way to enforce an Irish maintenance order in Texas.  There is an international treaties/laws in this area - see more here - but the United States is not a signatory and so it doesn’t apply to anyone resident in the US.

It looks like a court application could be made in the courts in Texas, under something called the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), but obviously that would involve US lawyers and could be quite expensive, more information here.   

On a practical basis, once your ex is out of the jurisdiction, it is difficult to bring any pressure to bear unless he still has some assets in Ireland.  If not, any court application would have to be in Texas, as the Irish courts don’t have any enforceable jurisdiction over persons outside the borders of the State. Your Legal Aid Lawyer, once appointed, will be able to advise you on any options that there may be.

Currently the ex is in breach of a court order which could result in a finding of him being in contempt of court and him possibly being jailed.  However, if he is in Texas he is effectively beyond the reach of the Irish court. 


We wish you the very best in your mission to safeguard your daughters education. If you have any further questions or follow up, come back to us.

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