In May 2021, Greece adopted a controversial family law that awards joint custody of children to divorced parents, despite the opposition of several human rights groups and opposition parties, reported Greek Reporter.
The law was voted in Parliament’s plenary by the ruling New Democracy party, while all other parties opposed it either by vote or by walking out during a roll-call vote for two articles.
What Were These Two Controversial Articles?
The two controversial articles were on:
- Joint & Equal Custody of Children
- Time allotted for the child to communicate with the parent not living with him or her
Both these articles were approved solely by New Democracy votes. Two party MPs who had expressed specific objections early on and called for improvements voted against it.
Among concerns raised by MPs over articles 7 and 13 were that the child’s interests were not taken into account, that sharing custody equally between parents did not recognise the parent who shouldered the burden of raising the child, and that custody should be awarded by special family courts.
The new family law was heavily criticised by rights organizations, which claim that it is putting women and children at risk.
However, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised concern that such rulings must be final or issued by the Supreme Court, a legal process that can take years, during which an allegedly abusive parent could maintain co-custody and communication with the child and co-parent.
In cases of “imminent danger” to a child’s mental and physical health, a prosecutor can take immediate protection measures and then has 90 days to bring the case to court. The bill makes no specific mention of abuse of one parent by another, or measures to protect victims of intimate partner abuse in cases of co-custody.
Such omissions in the law could force women and their children into ongoing contact with abusers and create opportunities for further harm.
What Does The New Law State?
The proposed changes would permit courts to curtail parental communication with a child when there is “bad or abusive exercise” of this right or revoke custodial rights if a parent is unable to comply with obligations, or performs this function abusively.
Family law “Contravenes International Law”
In a statement, the HRW claimed that the new family law changes contravene international law, which requires that custody determinations be based on assessment of the best interests of the individual child, and do not ensure sufficient protections for domestic abuse victims and their children. Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch quoted:
Equal co-parenting is a laudable goal, but a blanket presumption of 50-50 child custody ignores the dangerous reality for domestic abuse victims – overwhelmingly women – and their children.
The Greek Parliament should put the safety of children and abuse victims first and reject these alarming changes.
Activism in Greece For Shared Parenting
Expert organizations in Greece have criticised the bill’s fundamental presumption universally equating the child’s best interests with parents’ equal participation in the child’s upbringing, rather than requiring case-by-case determinations.
The groups included the Hellenic Society of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Family Law Society, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights, the Lawyers Committee on Legal Issues of Co-Custody, the gender equality organization Diotima, and Refugee Support Aegean.
Set up since the start of the pandemic, the Active Dads for the Rights of the Child organisation has campaigned for parliament to approve the legal change. One of its founders Dionysis Logothetis, 50, said that lockdown had compounded the situation for fathers, reported France 24. The doctor and father of two said that many divorced dads have been deprived of visits due to Covid restrictions and have not been able to see their children for many months. He added,
Confinement has often been used as a pretext to keep the child away from one of the two parents, very often it was the father.
In most cases, he continued, the court granted only limited visiting rights to divorced fathers, which amounted to two weekends a month and a few hours a week. The conservative New Democracy government instigated the bill to introduce joint custody, saying it aimed to “meet the best interests of the child” after a divorce.
However, feminist groups, human rights and left-wing organisations, as well as opposition parties, worry that making shared custody compulsory could compromise the safety of mothers and children.
They point to “patriarchal” structures in Greek society and a lack of social services.
- Children of separated parents should never become victims or pawns amidst the ego battle of wife and husband
- Either spouse could be bad at their marital roles, however, to judge Men purely on the basis of their gender or biological limitations, is highly unjust when it comes to matters of upbringing the child
- Every child needs the backing and support of both mother and father equally – as both parents have strengths in their respective zones
- Responsibility of fathers towards children should not be limited to only providing financial support
- We do agree that courts must take a micro view if either spouse has been violent or a domestic abuser
- However, such judgements should not be restricted to only reprimanding an abusive father; if a mother is found guilty of abusing, beating or exploiting her husband, custody must be denied to such moms equally
- Last but not the least, children must not be turned into ping pongs by either spouse, to settle scores with the other (often we do witness mothers depriving basic telephonic communication between father and child, until the man pays up alimony or maintenance as per her demand)
- Courts must speed up in evaluating cases and passing orders, because once the child spends number of years being brainwashed by the custodial parent, it would be almost impossible to compel him/her to meet or spend time with non-custodial parent (most often the father)
- India still does not have a law on shared parenting and as per old RTI, only 2 out of 83 fathers were given custody of their children after divorce