My glorious day at the District Court

in me

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Do not interpret this article as anything but an account of my personal experience. Do not interpret this article as legal advice. Speak to a solicitor if you have questions.


I say this over and over: every new experience has the chance to be transformative. Every novel new encounter can has the potential to turn my mind around or bring new concepts and learnings into my life. Sure, the experience itself may not be good, but even an awful experience can lead to new and better things.

Yesterday I attended the District Court in Galway in answer to a summons from the Central Authority for Maintenance Recovery. My ex-wife started the process a few years ago through (AFAIK) Medicaid in Las Vegas. While some of the paperwork dates to 2010, the majority of it dates to 2013. My ex-wife’s side of the story is a different one that mine, which boils down to I’ve been prevented from doing so.

I say the above because I realize how much stigma surrounds separated fathers, child supports and courts. “Ah shure, isn’t he a deadbeat dad, off getting dragged to court!” I want to support my son, but I have been prevented. Going through the courts, even in this reverse manner, gets support to Garrett. I feel no shame.

But the stigma remains. Google is a wasteland. There are news articles, informational pieces, solicitor’s blurb pieces and little else by page five of the results. Nobody talks about their experiences, and if nobody talks, nothing changes. My own journey to this point is beyond the scope of this post, but I think it is healthy to broach the topic and air my experience in court.

Talk to your estranged spouse!
There is no useful information online about what a father can expect in court. No site will tell you to whom you can speak or what documents should you need at a maintenance hearing. If you’ve reached the point that you have a court summons, then communications for some time. The process is slow, and you have every opportunity along the way to reach a voluntary settlement. It’s one thing to hear, over and over, that the court prefers the parents to reach an agreement before they appear before it. It is another to watch the judge lambast parents and solicitors for their failure to communicate.

I am serious: have a good reason!

Money
The Central Authority will want a snapshot of your finances. Exactly what they expect is vague. As I am a self-employed web developer with an accountant, I already have to keep track of my business finances. At the start of every calendar month I export my bank information in CSV format and use this to determine last month’s finances. I gave this to my accountant, who returned a statement of my finances under her letterhead a while later.

Do not self-declare your finances if you are self-employed. The Central Authority will reject this. If you are in regular employment, present your pay stubs along with outgoings payments like your rent and car. If you receive an unemployment benefit, the Department of Social Protection can provide a letter that states your benefit scheme and weekly payment. It takes about five minutes to prepare and they can do it while you wait.

You may be asked to complete a Statement of Means by the court, which is a standardized form to assess your income.

I paid €100 to have my accounts prepared, which isn’t cheap, but it was way easier than the stress of preparing my own finance. Either way, do not hesitate to speak to an accountant, the Legal Aid Board if you believe you qualify, or a local solicitor.

Maintenance
Maintenance payments are relative to your income and in consideration to the needs of the child. As well as a flat payment made weekly, you will have to contribute to ongoing costs at occasions like the start of the school year and Christmas. The amount also considers your own ability to support yourself. A court will not leave you in the position of being unable to support yourself.

What to expect
Soul-destroying boredom. The District Court holds family law days at regular intervals, because most issues are quick to settle. On the day, the court will first triage cases, with issues of child welfare and safety trumping questions of access or support. When the registrar mentions your case, announce yourself. The opposing solicitor will speak likewise.

After that, the court expelled everyone. This was at 11am. For myself, I met with the opposing solicitor and spoke at length with him. I expected him to spit fire, brimstone and wear all the other trappings of the Catholic hell. He took me aback with his warmth and humanity about my case. I presented my finances and clarified my story. He took my numbers and presented a tentative rate. Again-I’m happy to pay, but the court still has to ratify this. This was at 12pm.

The solicitor and the court left us to our own devices after this. We left for lunch, met Alanna, came back, sat around, left again and sat around until the close of the court at 5pm.

The context for the judge’s harsh remarks was that they were toward a couple who failed to reach any agreement. They sat there for seven hours and didn’t even talk. My impression is that eleventh-hour settlements are both common and expected of the parties present.

The bailiff brought us all back into the court at five o’clock. The judge apologized for the delays, and adjourned each case in turn until later in the year. I have to return in September.

So, then
I am not one of the fathers who has lost out on access in court in the past. My own case won’t be for a while to come, and I am heartened by the Children and Families Relationships Bill. The bill expands my rights as a single, separated father. I am hopeful! I am frustrated because my day in court didn’t quite happen, but I came away more informed about the theory and reality of the maintenance process.

If you are a single father, your first stop should be Unmarried and Separated Parents of Ireland. USPI are father-oriented nonprofit who will give advice and provide legal services. They ask for a nominal donation in return. My experience with them is that they are ballbreakers who Get Things Done. They hold two weekly clinics in Dublin, one on Monday in Fairview and the second on Tuesday in Tallaght.

Further help
The quality of material on the Internet isn’t great. Much of it has become outdated in the wake of the Children and Families Relationship bill. Speak to a person. Get a solicitor, find an accountant and make another attempt to speak to your spouse.

Treoir specialize in the cases of unmarried parents, and there are comprehensive articles available at Citizens Information. And lastly, again, the Legal Aid Board are there to help.





Get an array of per-year and per-month counts of your WordPress posts

in code

PHP archive function

I had to research this for a client. Their project requires a list of posts per month and per year over the duration of the blog but, like mine, they have a lot of posts spread over an extended period of time. It would benefit me to have the same count, so I approached a solution for both sites. As of this article, I have published just shy of 1800 posts over an inclusive 11 years (2005-2015). There are a few methods to grab a post count for the current month, or for a given month using WP_Query or get_posts. These methods take up to a second to iterate for a blog of my age and and size, which is just too slow. While I could save the results using update_option, that bring in date checking, incremental generation, variable validation and a host of overhead that wouldn’t work as well as an efficient method.

This Stackoverflow thread gave me the seeds of a solution, which I expanded into a function that:

  1. Determines the year of the first post.
  2. Determines the current year.
  3. Inclusively iterate through each year using the ‘$wpdb‘ global variable to find the number of posts for each month of that year. A month isn’t added if there were no posts during it.

I’m going to assume that most calendar archive widgets use something like this. Thing is, Google didn’t turn up anyone who talked about an easy and copy-pastable solution, so here you go:

GitHub gist!

The function returns a multidimensional array ordered by year in descending order, with each month added by name followed by a count.

/**
 * Convert Number to Month
 * -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
 * See: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/18467669/convert-number-to-month-name-in-php
 * 
 * @param  int          $number             The month of the year as a number.
 * @param  string                           The month as a word.
 */

function get_month_from_number($number) {
    return date_create_from_format('!m', $number % 12)->format('F');
}

/**
 * Generate Dated Archive Post Count
 * -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
 * Generate the initial count of posts by year and month, and save it under the
 * given options key. Generating this can be resource intensive, so it makes 
 * sense to store this as a variable.
 * 
 * See: https://wordpress.stackexchange.com/questions/60859/post-count-per-day-month-year-since-blog-began
 * 
 * @param   string      $option_name        Options key for the post count.
 * @return  array       $counts             Returned counts for the 
 */

function timed_archives_count() {
    global $wpdb;

    /* Get the year of the first post: 
     * -------------------------------------------------------------------------
     * 1. Get 1 post in ascending order. This is the first post on the blog.
     * 2. Extract the date of the post.
     * 3. Parse that down to the year alone. */
    $from_date = preg_replace('/-.*/', '', get_posts(array(
        'posts_per_page' => 1,
        'order' => 'ASC'
    ))[0]->post_date);

    for ($i = date('Y'); $i >= $from_date; $i--) {
        $counts[$i] = array();

        $month = $wpdb->get_results($wpdb->prepare(
            "SELECT MONTH(post_date) AS post_month, count(ID) AS post_count from " .
            "{$wpdb->posts} WHERE post_status = 'publish' AND YEAR(post_date) = %d " .
            "GROUP BY post_month;", $i
        ), OBJECT_K);

        foreach ($month as $m) {
            $counts[$i][get_month_from_number($m->post_month)] = $m->post_count;
        }
    }

    return $counts;
}

Here is a snippet of how the returned array appears:

[2015]=>
array(5) {
    ["February"]=>
    string(1) "8"
    ["March"]=>
    string(2) "14"
    ["April"]=>
    string(2) "12"
    ["May"]=>
    string(2) "17"
    ["June"]=>
    string(1) "6"
}

There’s lots more I can do from this nub of a function. Quick example that spits out an ordered list:

$archive_counts = timed_archives_count();

foreach ($archive_counts as $year => $months) {
    printf('<br />%s<br />', $year);

    foreach ($months as $month => $count) {
        printf('%s: %s<br />', $month, $count);
    }
}

Now what?

in me

I’ve achieved all of my short- and mid-term goals and desires: career, relocation, home office, freelance career and awesome girlfriend. My code isn’t that bad and my graphic design has seen use in startup branding. I am still no closer to Caira or Garrett, but the Legalities Creep Slowly Onward.

I have it all, and faced with the question of what now? The topic came up last night, after I admitted I have felt out of place-disrupted-for all of the week gone. Eadaoin and I turned the question over at length while on a walk. To give an answer deeper than “Mark is a mopey cunt”, it is maybe because I don’t have any longer term goals beyond “endure”. I blame Frank Herbert. Hear me out:

In Dune, Frank Herbert employs many concepts from Zen Buddhism. His Fremen are fatalistic in the Zen manner; the Fremen have a goal-the transformation of Arrakis into a verdant paradise-but avoid a centrally-organized plan, because such plans are impeded by real-world factors and variables. To quote the book:

You are there-so…

The novel, and Zen, have helped me through the last few years: Acknowledge, but separate, the past; keep an eye to windward, but don’t let the clouds stay you. I’ve tried to exist now, but I have reached the point where this can no longer carry me. I work, I earn, but there’s been nothing beyond; there aren’t any goals or hobbies beyond “get access to the kids.”

I need to step back, give myself a direction for the year, and then just do it like I’ve done everything else up until now.